Sunday, March 17, 2013

Greek Fired

So, last night we're fueling a large but very empty oil tanker out in a semi-exposed anchorage off New York. Freezing mist is falling, but we're hitting on all cylinders- our dedicated tugboat brought us alongside the ship without a bump, even though the ship itself was freshly anchored and still swinging into the wind, and the deck gang had lines up and all fast in under 10 minutes- very impressive.
 What happens next is that I'll kick on our deck flood lights and the ship will lower their accommodation ladder- a gangway- and an engineer and his helper will come aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/floating penitentiary to sound my cargo tanks pass papers and be sure that I'm going to give him the type and volume of fuel he wants... this job in particular was pretty straightforward- I was giving him about 1100 tons of fuel- about 300,000 gallons, just a sip, on our terms, like putting a tenner in the tank mid-week.
 I strike up a conversation with Lazarus, the duty engineer, a Greek national performing his last operation as a marine engineer, as he was quitting and going home to run a motorcycle repair shop once the ship was fueled. Larry, as he asked to be called, complained about his boss, the Chief Engineer, who was calling on the walkie-talkie every 30 seconds and asking why we weren't pumping fuel. I explained to the (presumably) very experienced chief that we had to pass papers before I could start, just like everyone everywhere has to do before handing off a million bucks or so worth of fuel. Larry's helper,a Filipino, just smiled and smelled like fish. Nice guy. Reminds me of friends back home when I was lobstering.
        We finish going over the papers, and I send up the inch-thick stack to the ship for signatures, then sound my tanks- dropping a tape to measure the distance between the tank top and the cargo level. Larry's freaked out because we're using English System measurements- degrees Fahrenheit, barrels, feet and inches. It's all (not) Greek to him.  I go over things with him.

     When all is in order, I kick the pumps on and masterfully watch the paint dry, pretty much, until relieved at midnight and G-Ray, my erstwhile Sancho Panza, takes over.

     A few hours later, when the pumps are secured, I pop awake, aware that the two giant screaming diesel engines on deck are blissfully silent- I can't hear them from my room, but the light and pleasant hum they produce in the steel deck plates is absent, and that I do notice, so I wander out for a pee, and there's G-Ray and Larry, talking about the Letter of Protest we received.

    A Letter of Protest means that someone's gotten screwed. Usually it's us. In most of the world, bunker companies are notorious thieves who will cut short transfers and then try to sell the remaining fuel to line their own pockets. I'm often propositioned to do this and split the money by Russian engineers who get pretty bent out of shape (if sober, which is rare) when I say that this is the US and we don't do that shit here.
           I got heated in this case because the ship claimed we shorted them 21 tons of fuel, even after they measured our tanks both before and after we pumped cargo to them, but more, that the letter was printed out long before we finished the transfer- they were just looking for some free oil in the inevitable arbitration that will follow.  It's nothing personal, though I have a hard-on for liars, so I told Larry to translate to his chief something unkind- I could tell he hated the guy and was miserable for being Lucky Pierre in the message chain. Suddenly it occurred to me why a college-educated engineer was choosing to return to Greece's royal shit show of a job market rather than face 15 years of working for fatherless lowlifes until he could stomach the kool-aid and become one himself.
       Right now, at this moment, Larry's at JFK airport, drunk, and ready to start a new chapter in his life, and our industry is losing one more honest man. Too bad.


Bryn, Isle of Anglesey, UK said...

In conversation with my father (Chief Engineer, Steam & Motor Vessels, British Merchant Navy) some years ago he told me that in some less civilised ports on the West coast of Africa his standing orders for his department were that ALL watch-keeper engineers & cadets were to be on deck with heads rotating 360 during fuel transfer, with at least five fuel samples per hour being taken from the test-cock on the transfer hose.
One engineer was to be watching the glass inspection port without fail throughout the transfer - step forward cadet, well volunteered....
Given that a colleague of his once had the main engine come to a most unhappy stop in a tidal shipping lane after taking on 200 tons of salt water mixed in with the heavy bunker fuel, I could understand his point of view.....
ps The other end of the spectrum was in Japan, where the Ch/Eng was treated with huge respect - and the fuel transfers were totally reliable.
New York & Galveston were also reliable & fraud-free in his experience.

Anonymous said...

I think of a sort of floating tribunal, ready to weigh anchor and come to your aid even at 4am, manned with fair judges. I think of you being able to haul them into small claims court for lying. I think I will take another hit of this lovely ship paper tattoo.