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A day in the engine trunk (1992) Back to stories index

The long narrow tunnel-like passage was just large enough to allow me sit, crawl and turn. It was smelly and oily. Besides, on all cover plates there were inch-thick carbon and other complex toxic materials, products of combustion. I crawled while holding kinds of metal pieces to scrub the plates. Occasionally I would turn my body to hand over the plastic bag full of carbon deposits to the one waiting outside the manhole. I wore layers of second hand clothes all over my body. Air was pumped-in by an electric blower placed at a manhole at one end. Lighting was provided by a portable bulb at the end of a cable.

Engine air trunk
  1. Cylinder head
  2. Fuel oil supply to injection nozzle
  3. Combustion chamber inside the cylinder (above the piston)
  4. Piston (move down and up by combustion, that powers the propeller)
  5. Under side of the piston that compresses the air supplied by turbocharger, and transfers it into the intake trunk - to feed the combustion
  6. Air intake trunk from which air was sucked into the combustion chamber to mix with the fuel to produce combustion
  7. Turbo charger driven by exhaust gas, that sucks in the air, presses it and pushes it into the engine
  8. Cooler that cools the air to make it even heavier
  9. Red arrows = Exhaust gas flow
  10. Black arrows = Air flow

I had been inside for four hours. There were still a lot to do. Chief engineer ordered us to do the cleaning till he could see the original paint of the metal. At lunch I got out of the engine and ate my food in the workshop, with dirty hands.

After the meal the oiler joined me. We both squeezed ourselves into the intake trunk of the 1958 two-stroke 8-Cylinder MAN heavy oil engine that had been propelling the ship for more than 30 years. From within the intake trunk we could also stretch our hands into many other rooms of the engine.

Cleaning inside the air trunk of 8-cylinder engine was one of our many hard jobs. We did it every few thousands running hours. It took one whole day for at least three people: two inside and one outside. It was also the close encounter between our mind, flesh and the metal. Wherever you hit, you were the one to get hurt. It was time to respect the metal.

There are moving parts. Before you start you have got to make sure the crankshaft is manned by someone in close communication with you. You would also inspect the combustion chamber wall of each cylinder (as much as possible) while the piston is at the bottom position. Thus someone outside must rotate the shaft to move up or down the piston (more than a meter diameter and two plus meters high).

I heard about loss of fingers and hands because of misunderstanding between people. While your hand is inside the cylinder through a hole, the moving piston would chop out your hand quite neatly.

We were at the anchorage off Jakarta, Indonesia. A large cargo ship that was supposed to leave the wharf in the morning was still loading cargo. No other place at the port for us to dock. So we were forced to wait outside at sea. That made the opening of engine trunk possible since we had at least 14 hours before getting a wharf.

At 7PM my second engineer went inside the trunk for inspection. It was now as clean as your bedroom floor. We checked for any leftover stuff and then closed the manholes.

While shampooing my hair thick with carbon and heavy oil in the bathroom, 30 minutes notice call came in. Within 10 minutes I was again in the engine room preparing for the docking. 8 to 12 (8 am to 12 noon and 8PM to 12 mid-night) were my normal duty at sea.

Just before mid-night our ship was successfully docked. Everything necessary was done. Engine stopped. The floor plates were mopped and tools were in their places in order. I signed the log and left for the upper deck. It was 1:20AM. After a light shower I walked to the President bar at the corner of a four-way intersection just a kilometer from the port. The happy hours were over. Only a few sailors, locals and the girls were seen chatting, hugging and drinking.

At three in the morning I was again on the road dotted with litters of various kinds in colors. Stray dogs fought for pieces of leftover food. It was pleasantly cool; and it was quiet apart from the occasional noises of cargo trucks. Gentle sea breeze swept over the northern city. I heard a horn from a leaving ship in the distance. I have got to get a few hours nap before the departure during my shift.

A typical Sunday morning in Jakarta.

(Note: the same story was published in web site in Dec 2003.)

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