All the large ships coming into the impounded basin, the Canal, have to pass through the Prince Philip (PP) Lock. If the lock isn’t working, no ships can pass in or out.
On Thursday morning last week, the Port’s Lockmaster reported that the North West sluice valve had failed to open and, as a consequence, the lock was only operating at half-speed. Opening and closing the sluices on either side of the lock raises and lowers the water level in the lock, allowing ships to enter and leave at various states of the tide. As the smaller lock, the Prince George is currently closed for major maintenance, the PP Lock is used more frequently and it is imperative that the lock works efficiently to permit a smooth flow of traffic entering and leaving the Port.
The Engineering Team moved quickly to assess the problem and soon discovered that the problem lay with the sluice valve operating gearbox. The gearbox weighs 750kg and is mounted five metres below ground in the narrow confines of the sluice valve pit. That means that special ‘confined space’ safety procedures, including air quality monitoring and the deployment of oxygen masks for use in an emergency had to be followed.
The team already had a crane on site for a different task and planned to take advantage of this by lifting the broken gearbox out and replacing it with a new spare one. After a very considerable effort, the new gearbox was positioned, commissioned and handed back to the Lockmaster in operational condition, all within twelve hours of receiving the report and without causing delay to shipping movements. This demonstrates the importance of having a dedicated engineering team and spares on site for critical components.
Tony Parker, Director of Engineering commented “It was a tremendous effort by the engineering team who worked well into the late evening to get the work completed, so no ships were delayed. In addition we would also like to say a special thanks to Southern Cranes and Steve Murrell, the crane driver, who stayed on site to see the job through.”