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Most modern ships use a reciprocating diesel engine as their prime mover, due to their operating simplicity, robustness and fuel economy compared to most other prime mover mechanisms. The rotating crankshaft can be directly coupled to the propeller with slow speed engines, via a reduction gearbox for medium and high speed engines, or via an alternator and electric motor in diesel-electric vessels. The rotation of the crankshaft is connected to the camshaft or a hydraulic pump on an intelligent diesel.
The reciprocating marine diesel engine first came into use in 1903 when the diesel electric rivertanker Vandal was put into service by Branobel. Diesel engines soon offered greater efficiency than the steam turbine.