Love Is Blind

Mahesa Abeynayake Head of Quality/ Act. CEO/Consultant Marine Engineering, Fiji Maritime Academy Somewhere in the South China Sea on a rickety old cargo vessel, two engineers were buried deep in
12 Apr 2017 11:00
Love Is Blind

Mahesa Abeynayake
Head of Quality/ Act. CEO/Consultant Marine Engineering, Fiji Maritime Academy

Somewhere in the South China Sea on a rickety old cargo vessel, two engineers were buried deep in the engine room. The pair was working on a faulty air conditioning duct.

The senior of the two, the Second Engineer, had been on board for a few months the other, a new man, had just joined in the previous port. On this particular evening, having completed day work, the rest of the engine room crew had left the engine room.

Not long into the tedious process of carefully riveting a piece stubborn ducting, the two engineers noted a burning smell.

A quick look into the engine room was enough to note that the exhaust manifold of No four auxiliary engine was on fire.

Any fire in the engine room is a major catastrophe. A burning engine is the worst kind one could encounter. The abundance of fuel oil in the lines entwined in a diesel engine will feed the fire with an endless supply of combustion aid. The situation will escalate in no time. This is exactly what happened on that disastrous day.

In the events that followed, the engine room quickly became a death trap. One of the fuel plugs in the feed line burst open, and the diesel oil sprayed onto the burning manifold creating a fireball which rose up to the top of the engine room skylight.

Having unsuccessfully tried to douse the raging flames with the portable carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguisher, the two engineers sought refuge in the engine control room, shutting the door behind them.

Since the Old Tub was not equipped with a fully functional alarm system, and some of the installed systems malfunctioned, the Second Engineer stopped engines and pulled the engine control lever full astern to declare an emergency in the engine room.

The situation now had escalated rapidly; the fire was raging outside the control room with great intensity. The two engineers were trapped in the control room. The situation looking bleak with only one way out to safety out of the burning engine room, the pathway to hell running the gauntlet through the fire.

A fire of this nature calls for release of the fixed CO2 fire fighting system.  This involves a bank of CO2 gas bottles released in bulk to the fire area. This particular gas does not sustain life. Evacuation from the engine room spaces is necessary for all personal before the chief engineer and the captain decide to sound the alarm and pull that handle.

Most often there is only a small window of opportunity for this decision before the fire is out of control and beyond extinguishing stage. All the vents had to be closed to seal the engine room before the release of the gas for the maximum effect.

There have been a few incidents on board other vessels when heads were counted, and one or two crew members were missing. The CO2 was opened to save the vessel and the rest of the crew. The missing crew members were presumed dead somewhere in the engine room.

On this occasion, the crew was aware that the crew was trapped in the control room.  They armed themselves with breathing apparatus and fire hoses, stood by the engine room door forming the rescue party to go in and bring the trapped engineers out.

The fire at this stage was so intense that the rescue party simply could not proceed beyond the entrance to the engine room.

The Second Engineer then decided to make a bold decision to evacuate from the control room.  He was now faced with two major obstacles; the raging fire, smoke and a colleague who was unfamiliar with the way out of the engine room.

The pair collected a few old overalls and covered themselves from head to toe. Resembling two Muslim ladies, just their eyes uncovered, they made their way out through the thick smoke and fiery red flames.

Two things happened on the way. The new man collapsed with smoke inhalation.

The Second Engineer with his eyes exposed to intense heat was partially blinded. Braving all odds the second virtually carried his colleague through to the engine room door to safety.

The rest of the crew was waiting outside the door to meet the two. The Chief Engineer and Captain made arrangements to close the vents and open the CO2 gas.

The gas screamed in the engine room and doused the flames in a few seconds.  The crew breathed a sigh of relief. When examining the pair who made it through the engine fire, someone noticed that the Second Engineer’s eyes were not normal.

The trip though the fire, dragging his colleague, had affected his eyes. A white layer was forming over the retina making him blind.

To make matters worse, the condition of the vessel was dire, the electrical wiring destroyed, the vessel was drifting helplessly in a pirate-infested area.

The emergency generator was started, leaking radiator continually replenished with water from a bucket, with ships systems barely operational, the Captain managed to radio the company to inform of the plight of the vessel.

The closest port of call was the Philippines. The government sent a navy boat as protection from the pirates, and a tug towed them to the nearest port, Cebu.

Part two of the story began here when the company decided to repair the ship in the dry dock in Cebu.

The crew was accommodated in a hotel where our near blind Second Engineer had a comfortable room to rest as recommended by the doctor.

The blindness was thought to be temporary, and the bed rest was what the doctor ordered.

The sightless unsung hero of the stricken vessel who was nearly gassed by CO2 was now resting peacefully with his morning medicine on his left and the night medicine on the right side of the bed for ease of access.

The room itself was a mess because the man could not walk to the bathroom without knocking down the furniture. The hotel management, weary of having to rearrange the furniture, allocated a staff member to assist the poor soul.

The allocated staff member, a local lass, took good care of the patient constantly contacting the Second Engineer’s parents by long distance phone to convey his condition.

As she carefully tendered to the nearly blind patent, a tender romance blossomed between the two.

The parents getting wind of this by a conversation on the phone were curious about the relationship. A mother being who she is was also concerned that their blind son was falling for a foreign girl who he may not have seen.

Those who have been to the Philippines would not have any concerns. There are not too many ugly girls in that part of the world.

The story concludes with a happy ending. The Second Engineer slowly recovering his eyesight, marries the girl who nursed him. After 25 years they are happily married to this day.

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