THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS FROM AN AMERICAN Merchant Mariner
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Where's your copy of the CFR's?
Dinner tonight was something different- after a long, long and hot day spent hunched over a needle gun and a buffer, I was pretty burnt out, and the SPF64 made the dust and rust scale I kicked up particularly annoying all over my person. This is pretty much my recipe for summer when we're not loading or discharging oil. I'm a big fan of therapeutic chipping and painting, as there aren't a lot of opportunities for mindless labor to lose oneself in out here. At any rate, in the late afternoon came the unwelcome news of a cargo that was fixed at the last minute. So be it. With my turn in the barrel coming up, my opposite out here fixed a beautiful, big chicken pot pie. We invited another crew to come aboard if they'd bring salad and a veggie for us... This resulted in a decent dinner with good folks at my table, and a rare opportunity for relaxed, extended conversation about the usual things that sailors talk about. Sex, work, and how fat we're getting. One thing that came up was a great discussion about how we react to negative events out here when we're dealing with dock or ship staff. Everyone had a story about the one time they blew up at a corrupt Russian engineer who wanted to sell back some of the fuel the ship had just purchased, for a cash discount. Reactions usually started off with polite refusals, degenerating from there. Aside from the humorous, the more serious issue of Letters of Protest came up, naturally, as I received one last week and all. One captain talked about his most ridiculous letter (which he countersigned "For receipt only, Dickhead" (which is hilarious if you're in the biz, but mundane as balls if not)). The most significant part of this exchange was the discussion on variances between how shipping companies interpret the MARPOL ( International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978) treaty around the world. In the US, we all run deeply scared of the US's OPA90, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and sometimes forget that MARPOL has teeth, too. What came out of this discussion was pretty basic. We all need a well-thumbed and bookmarked copy of the Code of Federal Regulations at hand, and access to MARPOL's salient highlights, as well. This can help bridge some gaps (the most popular reason for a Letter of Protest to be issued in bunkering, aside from cargo shortages or bad blends seems to be witnessing of representative samples). While none of us could fault MARPOL from designating the receiving ship's manifold point as the de facto official sampling point, it is possible to violate OPA90 by leaving one's own vessel unattended to witness samples elsewhere, and, if the other tankerman is roused, a busy barge can then violate the work-hours limitations set by the DOT. For these reasons, the astute tankerman has to question whether to expose oneself to liability, or the company, potentially, if anything gets overlooked or if something goes sideways. It's almost impossible not to be involved in a lose/lose situation if the tankerman on watch isn't careful with the CYA part of the job. Leaving one's vessel is against internal policy by most bunkering companies, and is stupid besides, as it also leaves one exposed to multiple legal risks and the potential for an injury that would involve a multinational pissing contest with only one possible loser. Rarely does this become an issue, however, as there's little difficulty in tasking the rating on watch at the ship's manifold to look over and watch the samples being taken at the barge manifold. When a new or particularly officious engineer takes umbrage at this, however, a pissing contest can unfold, and letters of protest get written in a massive show of CYA. To counter this, every piece of paper must be available as a legal shield, and every individual tasked with a fuel transfer should be able to defend their actions at all times.
I am Paul B, and I spend most of my life at sea. Ships, Science, the life of a mariner, biology and (mostly) true stories of life among the best and the worst people in the world, the United States Merchant Marines. You'll find it here, maybe. You'll definitely find rants, raves and discussion on life aboard a merchant ship. Come back and see the Brazilian girls, too, who show up fairly regularly.