Electrical system on Gotlandia II under pressure

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In the summer season, electrical engineers on Gotlandia work flat out. During crossings they mostly work with repairs of faulty equipment on the passenger deck, while scheduled maintenance is carried out when the ship is moored in the early morning.
It’s another sunny summer day as the HSC ship Gotlandia II sets off from Nynäshamn towards Visby. At this time of year, Destination Gotland ferries are running on tight sailing lists with short stops in port, which means a lot of wear on the electrical systems and equipment on board.
“There is an unbelievable amount of electronics in a ship like this and it has a hard life,” says Tommy Vinblad, electrical engineer. “Something always needs to be repaired, from broken toasters to circuit boards in processing equipment that need replacing or repairing.”
Gotlandia II is a high-speed ship, built with light materials and limited spaces to keep the weight to a minimum. Instead of a fully-equipped restaurant kitchen, there is a small kitchenette where food on board is prepared. The restaurant is open during the whole crossing and with a full ship, the pace is high.
“There are quite a few incidents with the equipment here, especially at the beginning of the season before it all settles down,” says Tommy as we are standing at the entrance to the kitchen. “When something breaks down, there is nearly always a panic since the passengers are waiting for their orders. A week or so ago one of the ovens broke down and we had to move the other ovens and equipment to access the faulty one. That was no fun at all.”
Tommy has been at sea for 30 years now, mainly on Gotland ferries. He started on Gotlandia II in 2006, when the ship was new. He says that there have been a lot of developments in electronics in the twelve years she has been in service, which has meant more work for him.
“Things have been changed and added over the years to widen the range of goods and services to passengers, but in the end the systems become overloaded and break down,” he says. “At the same time, electronics have become more complex and we can’t always repair the equipment ourselves. If the fault is in a complex system, or if it needs re-programming, we hire specialised technicians directly from the system designer.”
“We always start to diagnose the fault ourselves and go as far as we can, but in the depths of the really big systems, such as the PLC program for the air conditioning, that’s where we stop,” says Tommy.
Safety first
We leave the busy passenger deck and go down the ladder to the engine department where Tommy has his workshop. It is warm here and the compressor nearby is noisy. There is a disassembled amplifier for the ship’s PA system on the workbench.
“The fault is in the power supply, but I don’t know exactly what isn’t working. It took an hour just to disassemble it and I’ve not had time to start troubleshooting yet,” says Tommy, and adds that the machine rooms for the main engines and electrical generators are his primary areas of work on board.
He always uses ear defenders in the workshop due to the noise levels. He says he always makes sure the power is switched off before he starts work.
“Safety is always at the back of our minds when working with electricity, and it has got a lot better than when I started. We used to brush cables with our fingers to check whether they were live, but now we use a digital multimeter instead. You maybe get a shock from time to time, but nothing serious.”
Because the ship has no cabins for the crew, Tommy does the same as all the others and spends his free time on Gotland. He lives on the island and can go back home to rest, while the others go to hotels and apartments provided by the shipping company. Tommy starts his working day at half past four in the morning, which gives him just over three hours before the first morning sailing to do maintenance and anything that cannot be done during the passage.
“When I get on board I’m given a list of problems that appeared on the last crossing, which could be anything from a squeak in a seat to a main machine that won’t start properly. It is then up to me to give priority to repairs or do planned maintenance. I’ve never had a crossing where nothing has broken down, though some periods are quieter than others,” he says.
Ageing systems
Gotlandia II is usually in traffic until the second half of October, when she is laid up until the next season, which starts at Easter. The ship’s electrical engineers are employed all year round, though, and during the winter season Tommy and his colleagues mainly focus on maintaining the large systems.
“The ship is getting older and many of the systems are outdated, such as our analogue CCTV system that is used to monitor the ship during an incident or evacuation. We can hardly find parts for it any longer and we may need to replace it entirely.
It’s not only the CCTV system that is difficult to find parts for,” says Tommy.
“There are many components that are no longer manufactured and it takes time to chase around the world for them. On top of that, everything must be approved, have the right classification and entered into our internal system before we can order it. Maintenance programmes and documentation have become much more extensive over the years and I spend quite a lot more time on administration now than I used to.”
Linda Sundgren, text and photo

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