Athabaskan En­gine Prob­lems (Again)

RCN News - - Contents - by Ken Hansen, CFPS Res­i­dent Re­search Fel­low

Re­ports on the en­gine fail­ure in HMCS Athabaskan are miss­ing some im­por­tant as­pects of the prob­lems this an­cient war­ship is fac­ing. One of the two cruise tur­bines failed, leav­ing one other plus the two high-speed tur­bines. The ship should be able to func­tion with that de­gree of re­dun­dancy and, in­deed, many ships that I sailed on­board went about their mis­sions in much worse me­chan­i­cal con­di­tion. So why the ma­jor ex­pense and ef­fort to re­place that en­gine at this junc­ture?

A navy spokesper­son’s com­ment that, “en­gine re­place­ments are some­times re­quired, re­gard­less of the class or age of ship,” is a weak at­tempt to ‘spin’ this most re­cent break­down in a more fa­vor­able way. En­gine re­place­ment is not a mi­nor is­sue, and it is only done when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary out­side of a ma­jor re­fit.

I be­lieve the an­swer to the ques­tion “Why now?” is that the navy has no con­fi­dence in the en­gi­neer­ing con­di­tion of the ship. If they did, the ship would un­doubt­edly con­tinue on her as­signed mis­sion and re­place the en­gine when and where it was con­ve­nient and eco­nom­i­cal to do so. This sit­u­a­tion is some­thing other than ‘nor­mal’.

In De­fence Watch, David Pugliese re­ports that the cause of the en­gine fail­ure was not re­lated to the cruise tur­bine it­self, but to the lu­bri­cat­ing oil sys­tem. With­out lu­bri­ca­tion, any mov­ing machin­ery will rapidly over­heat. Fail­ures of the lube-oil sys­tem are con­sid­ered ‘en­gi­neer­ing emer­gen­cies’ of the first or­der. The af­fected sys­tem must be shut down im­me­di­ately to pre­vent cat­a­strophic dam­age (junk­ing the en­gine) and sec­ondary con­se­quences (fires or ex­plo­sions). These are such im­por­tant events, that re­sponses to en­gine emer­gen­cies are prac­ticed daily to be sure that the staff on watch will re­act swiftly and cor­rectly. In this case, the en­gine was ru­ined, so we must won­der what hap­pened to the pre­planned re­sponse to pre­vent ex­actly that kind of out­come.

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