Friday, November 28, 2014

Very important news of global concern

Perhaps one of the single greatest challenges facing Brazil today, and of absolutely first concern, judging by the attention paid to the issue, is the judging of just which woman has the nicest bottom in the country famed and appreciated for their women's devotion to having nice bottoms.

 To act as an information clearinghouse and promote quality bottom-looking-at judging ability, Brazil formed the Miss Bumbum committee, a guild of selfless, professional bum-lookers dedicated to being able to who gots the best bottom.

 Think I'm waxing poetic? You have no idea what these poor, dedicated men have to go through. Forget being a Vegas oddsmaker, THESE are the guys who have to deal with a mountain of minutia and the ability to pick up on near-invisible cues when judging many, many butts out there where the difference between one and sundry is almost invisible to the human eye.

 So, in proving my point, here are the Miss Bumbum contestants we're talking about.











Thursday, November 27, 2014

Extra Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving- whether you're at work on the water, selling shoes, or whatever it is you do, I hope you have the time and desire to mark the day as something to be thankful for.


 We got a nice surprise here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Banquet hall. Whilst working on our corroborative cooking for the day (I'm going off the diet  wagon. After losing 2.5lbs in the last 10 days, (83lbs gone), I'm going to undo that, right here today).

 The big surprise is that the cargo scheduled to be loaded aboard tonight has been postponed for 24 hours, which means that other than a quick shifting of berths this evening, we're free to enjoy the food coma. For this we are extremely thankful.

EDIT: Never Mind. They moved it back to today. Dammit.


 The only regret I hold is that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and The Boy are alone today, with no family within 1500 miles. They're celebrating with some good friends, thank God, but it's a little tough on them. Life of a sailor's wife and all. Spare them a thought if you think of it, along with all the military wives, service industry folks, and others who are either working or separated from their loved ones.


 Here is a copy of my Thanksgiving post from the Book of Faces. Holidays always make me so sentimental.


"Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Spare a thought for the service industry folks working today; the oil industry folks, farmers, and and the plumber you'll call when your visiting aunt aunt stops up the head with something the size of a cat. Quit denying, auntie. We all know it was you."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Turducken Incident

This was the blog post that almost got me fired.

http://bigironbegfish.blogspot.com/2008/11/be-optimistic.html


 Thanksgiving 2008 was in the middle of my last voyage on the ancient and awful but beloved tanker NEW RIVER, and it was 4 months of hell. Breakdowns, broken charters, and my one and only real moment thus far in life where it was reasonable to make an Act of Contrition (a catholic thing when facing death), which took place during a series of synchronous progressive rolls when the ship rolled onto her beam ends. causing something of a fuss and lawsuits and ultimately a nail in the coffin of a dying company.

 So it was a shitty trip, but I survived and thrived. But then, my Thanksgiving post above was posted, and I damn near got blackballed for the crime of insulting the Turducken.

I'm not a fan of the unholy amalgamation of three otherwise fine 'n tasty fowls. My own humble opinion is that they're the opposite of synergy. Like pouring french onion soup over birthday cake.

 6 years. Seems like a lifetime ago. In many ways, I guess I've grown up, finally.






 Of all the things I've lost, I miss my hair the most. I These days, it's coming in more gray and less red, what little there is. OTOH, I don't miss the strain of 295lbs on my hips and knees. I can't lift a full 55 gallon drum to chest height anymore, but, then again, I don't weigh as much as one, either.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

a little floor spice makes everything nice

My employer has 2 main classes of tugboats. The little ones are 3,000hp harbor tugs- sweet, maneuverable and versatile. Then there are the 4,200hp ocean-going tugs. Great for going in a straight line, but bred from the unholy union of a wrecking ball and a bulldozer. Too much ass, not enough rudder, really, for day-to-day maneuvering here at the Q, especially when handled by the tugboating equivalent of  being set up with a girl who's "got a great personality."

 Best tugboaters in the world would have a hard time making these pigs do what they're supposed to do. Not every 4200 driver is in competition for that title, anyhow. Some are pretty damn good. Some... not so much. Tonight's tugboat driver is an unknown. I've worked with him once before, and, the guy seems damn good.  Tugboats are festooned with rubber bumpers for a reason. They're made to be able to use the Braille method of navigation. "Am I close? How close am I? *SMASH* "OK, We're here."

 Our NY fleet is not like that, for the most part. There's some hellaciously good small boat handlers out there.



 Waiting for clearance to leave a dock, the tugboat comes up alongside us a little hard... and by a little hard, I mean it blew a large pot of soup clean off my stove and sent it 5 solid feet away from the stove before landing on deck. I checked. My galley deck looks like a crime scene, but the area around the stove is pristine.


 Anyhow, although I've been known to endorse the 5-second rule once or twice, there's no going back for about 4 meals worth of spicy tortilla soup. While there's no crying over spilled milk, there's not much choice when the living quarters' air is so spiced up that you can taste the soup just by breathing. Shit's burning the hell out of my eyes. I feel like I've been watching "Brian's Song" on repeat.

 Well, it'll be funny once the smell's gone. I got a sort-of laugh out of it. It'd be funnier if I wasn't hungry. I'm the only one awake right now... well, now I am, anyhow. I'm pretty sure that the sound of about 10lbs of soup and a 3-gallon steel pot achieving flight, not to mention 4,000 tons moving sideways about 5 ft in a 1/2 second probably wasn't something that you can sleep through.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

better and better!

Ahhhhh... back home, here at the 'Q.  Nothing, but nothing, makes me appreciate, warts n' all, HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/men's sanitorium, than time spent on another barge.

 I'm back at my home-away-from-home, and that's to the good. My week away was spent on the Career Killer, a particularly uncomfortable and unlucky vessel, though I had good company there, which made it tolerable. Really, anyone can about survive anything for a week, and I did.

 But still, glad to be here.

     To celebrate, we even got a watch off AND shore access, so I did a 10-mile walk, and bought some quality food items at a snobby gourmet grocery, because I eat super-healthy while at work, so I can eat everything I love while at home and not swell up.  Any gate, I now have a modest supply of staple items (vegetables and salad fixin's), and sore feet.

 What? I haven't walked in 2 weeks. My daily hour-walking-in-circles-on-deck doesn't count. It's an OCD behavior at this point.

Tomorrow I am bunkering the "Quantum of the Seas," the world's newest cruise ship. First time. She's leaving Monday for her first full cruise, and will become one of my regulars. She's replacing another regular,the one where people are always getting Norovirus, because having a significant portion of your guests shitting themselves all over the place is, apparently, bad for business.

  So hopefully the Quantum won't become a floating palace of Cholera like her predecessor.

the gas cap is behind the license plate. 

I dunno. I kinda want to try a cruise, but getting stuck in an office-building sized edifice, however nice, with 6,000 people sounds... awful. I know it's supposed to be nice, but I'm not 100% down with the idea of being on a boat and not being paid filthy lucre-grade money to do so.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

mariner's post: as ye reap...

We bitched, loudly, but mostly just to each other when we were ordered to only use the 'white lines,' new heavy rope. It's very absorbent and far heavier in terms of density than the polypropylene blend rope that used to be the standard. Over the last few years, before making the switch, we migrated to heavier lines, more strands (from three to eight), and then, eventually, to what we've got right now, sitting like frozen 2-ton sacks of shit on deck. This past year, polypro was banned, and we made the switch to heavier, larger, heavier stuff, which certainly gave me a sore back on a fair regular basis, and, arguably, could have set the stage for some injuries as a result. Unfortunately, in the tankering business, the folks hired by oil companies to vet us call the shots, and practicality vs. looks-good-on-paper isn't always the same thing. The new lines have more stretch, which presumably would cut down on lines parting, which they will do at times. This causes scary near-misses, and, although I've never seen it, can cause traumatic injury if someone's in the way. This seems to be rare, as we get scared shitless by parting lines  a couple of times a year.

 On the other hand, I've seen plenty of guys hurt their backs, humping rope. 

 Mariners are like seagulls: we eat, shit and squawk. Sometimes, though, it's good to know the squawking attracts attention, even if belatedly so.

 Well, recently we were able to make the switch back to a lighter, less absorbent synthetic mooring line. There has been much rejoicing.

 You see, we move HAWSEPIPER's AFLOAT GLOBAL HQ/ Pleasure Gardens constantly move- our mileau is small volume, multiple-product bunker work, which means we may moor, unmoor and remoor multiple times a day. Not being a massive ship with an entrenched local pilot, and multiple tugboats, we never have any assistance when docking at a terminal, which means that we have to physically THROW lines around bitts to a dock. And everybody but the tug captains take part in it. Hell, even the tug engineers sometimes come aboard to help moor. Very different from large ships, where the deck officer's massive case of t-rex arms precludes operating anything heavier than a walkie-talkie. And with the tugs calling the shots from hundreds of feet away, it can get pretty stressful for the ropes as we lever the unit into position, hence the gradual shift to using only slightly smaller mooring lines that we used on my old ship the 'New River' which was 100x heavier than the ol' HQ.

 At any rate, the insanely heavy, absorbent, back-straining lines we have are now frozen solid 'cus it's so dang cold out. Pretty much useless. Yesterday it poured rain all day, soaking the lines, and they didn't have time to dry out before the freeze set in.

 Yeah, losing all the weight this year means that I feel the cold more than I did last year, too. Not cool. On the upside, I can do some jumping jacks to warm up now, where last winter I'd have blown a knee out trying.



 No bullshit, this heavy white line, whatever it is,  is amazing stuff. The modulus of this shit is better than steel or spider silk when frozen. I lifted a 15-foot section that had frozen in a straight line, and it held its shape. A Wallenda could have walked across it without tying off both ends. Problem is, you've got to bend that shit around bitts and bollards, and the eye splice at the end needs to, you know, be eye-shaped.

 Not much fun out there, guys and gals. Our two new 16-strand lightweight synthetic lines are now revered aboard with the same fervor normally reserved for icons of the Virgin Mary in a Mexican household. You see, they freeze, but they're not water absorbent, so they still bend and can be thrown. I fully expect candles to be laid out around the stowed coils at some point.

 Oh, don't be offended. I'm Catholic, too. We can withstand a little light humor about how we roll.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

How the hell do I react to that?

As some readers may know, I'm a believer in delivering my message across all forms of media, whether that message is me complaining (more often of late, and wicked sorry. I'm working too much), living with being separated by time and distance from the B family, or just the day-to-day aboard the Big Metal Monastery.


 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I have recently doubled down on social media, as we've been building a place for ourselves in a new community far from the 'burbs of Boston, and as her family, FINALLY, after far too many years, come to accept that she's not actually just visiting the US to work a few years and move home, but has actually built a life here in Nova Iorque

 Oh, an aside for folks who like to goof on how bad Americans are at Geography. Most Brazilians believe that the US consists of "Nova Iorque" (Pronounced "Nova Yorkie" "Los Angeles" and "Da Farms."  Yet I got polled within hours by Brazilians about my position on Kim Kardashian's new ass pictures. Priorities.

Since I share information on the Book of Faces with co-workers, one can find pictures of Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife posed with me as we share such things with folks back home in Boston, and her friends and family back in Brazil. For the most part, this is no big deal. I work for a company that has a phenomenally adventitious ratio of good people to d-bags. Best I've ever seen since I was taken to sea at age 7. 

    So, since last week was a rare and elusive week spent at home at our new place in Florida, we went out, and shared some photos on Facebook...

  Look, my wife is proportionally far more attractive than I am. Her dad, being a moral man, forbid her from being a model early on, and, while she hasn't had to endure recruiting attempts as much as she did at 18, I witnessed the last attempt just a year ago.  She's a Morena, so she looks exotic. Her dad was smart. That's a recipe for exploitation, anyhow. Shame on me, I'm a little proud of it, sure. My fat n' ugly ass won the lottery, but I'm a pretty well-educated and cultured guy deep under the foul language, dick jokes and occasionally explosive temper. She's a remarkable person under the beautiful exterior. Hilarious language barrier aside, it's very easy for us to sit down every night  and then realize that 4 hours disappeared  in the blink of an eye. She and I are fiercely independent people, which is part of why our marriage works. Time together is a joy. Time apart is a little lonely, but balancing for us.

 Well, I'm long since past trying to explain that she's not a trophy wife and I'm not just a green card. Between her, me, our son and my limited time spent at home, I jealously guard my family and family time, so I tend to disappear when I'm not at work.
   So it really bummed me out when a co-worker made a little quip about my wife's shirt being a little low-cut in a Facebook photo.
    Why do I care? I share those photos with friends and family. To a Brazilian, my wife's clothes would be conservative but comfortable. Brazilian women revel in being feminine and pretty. They're downright unapologetic about it. So, after perhaps taking it for granted, I realize that a co-worker, a guy I basically like, is ogling my wife but lacks the social grace to keep that shit to himself.

 Maybe I'm mixing pleasure with business too much on social media. Just as my public persona here online does not quite match my role as paterfamilias at home, or my position as a reformed scientist in my capacity as a professional mariner, the one bleeds into the other, I guess. Perhaps I should be more cognizant of that.





Me 80lbs ago, but you get the idea. The Billy Joel/Christy Brinkley Paradox. Also, damn, I was heavy.



NOW HEAR THIS: Basic Seamanship Rant

Today's lesson/public service message from HAWSEPIPER.


  When working as a maritime professional, speak like a goddam professional. Use the right goddamn nomenclature, or be prepared to be thought of as a damn shoemaker.

 It's OK to slur certain words: 'Forr'ard' for Forward,' 'Foc's'le' for Forecastle. You can be crude and vulgar and still be professional, if you're creative enough. "Foreskin" for Forepeak is a good example.

 It's probably OK to not learn how to box the compass. But you should. By all means, however, know how to properly do your job as a lookout and learn how to report relative bearings.  A ship is not "At 4 O'clock" unless the time is, actually, 0400. It's "1 point abaft the starboard beam." The extra words and jargon are used for a reason. Your watch officer can get the gist of what you're saying even if the wind mutes half your words, and it's a precise statement with no possibility of being misunderstood.


 It's not a TWIX card, a TWIC's card or anything with an 's' sound at the end. That's a goddamned candy bar's name. It's a TWIC card, and when you mispronounce it or write it wrong, you sound and look like an ignorant ass. Stop it. You don't sit on the toilet to "take a shit's" so why do you insist that you have a TWIC's?

 Oh, also, learn to use the proper hand signals for overhead work or directing a fucking crane, please. When you do weird shit like slap the top of your head and point in a Hitler salute, you're telling the guy on the crane to steal third base, not come down on the boom. It's pretty fucking simple. Thumbs for boom, fingers for the runners, palms for swing, for your basic crane. You look like an epileptic in front of a strobe light when you do it wrong. Have some goddam dignity, for Christ's sake.

    Learn to tie the knots that are required to be rated as an Able Seaman, even if you're not. Imagine being a professional mariner, and not knowing how to tie a bowline, becket bend, carrick bend or surgeon's knot. If you're a mariner and can't do these, you're no fucking mariner, so quit pretending. You're a monkey, and not even a trained one.

It's OK not to know all the jargon. You'll pick it up as you go. You should know the names of all the parts of your ship, of course, and how to report the things you see and do. There will be shameful moments. For example, I can't make a Bosun's chair. For too long, my ass was too fat to sit comfortably in one, so I never learned, and didn't even use the prefab ones. Own your weaknesses and try to overcome them, right? I haven't gotten around to that one yet, so feel free to slut-shame me for it. I know I got it coming.

 And, for Christ's Own sake, every piece of metal that is not a bulkhead, deck or hull plate is not a 'fish plate." A fish plate is a fish plate, and is a railroad term. It's been co-opted to be used to describe the steel plate (sometimes also called a 'flounder plate' I hear) at the apex of a towing bridle... and that's about it.Know the proper terms.  Knowing how to communicate is important to knowing how to do your goddamn job.

*drops mike*



Friday, November 14, 2014

nyah nyah nyah

Apparently it's snowing in my old hometown.

    I'm floating around in the Con Hook area of NY/NJ, and it's cold and windy here, though, thankfully it didn't snow.

 Just wan to point out that my wife was mildly annoyed that she couldn't drink her morning coffee on the patio this morning until she put on a t-shirt with sleeves. Moving south was wicked smaht.

One of my orchids, growing outside in November. Because Florida.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

vanity piece

In order to get my hands on the woman who was to become my wife, I kicked the legs out from under one of my best friends, and planted a foot on his back before diving over him.

 9 years ago today, in fact.

 We met at a friends' wedding. I was a friend of the groom, my wife worked with the bride.  She caught the bouquet, and as I mentioned I used a man I have known since we were 5 to launch myself through the air and grab the garter, leaving a nice dusty size 13 footprint in the middle of his tux's back.

 200+ people then learned that, indeed, even brown-skinned women can blush bright red.


   My wife was a little oblivious to what was going on. It was her first American wedding, and Brazilians don't do the whole garter/bouquet thing. Her then-boyfriend figured it out, though, and suddenly he and his buddies started popping up like whak-a-moles, looking furious. It's a macho thing, I guess. A stranger putting hands on his date, and all.

       Then my friends, and the groom popped up, and things got tense. I'm half-drunk, as is everyone- the groom's half-Irish, and we know how to have a good time. I'm not going to ruin a wedding by hosting a 30-man brawl, though. My friends at the wedding were mostly union tradesmen- ironworkers, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, heavy equipment operators, etc. Not a single one of us under 6', nobody under 200lbs. The Brazilian men? Well, they're not as small as most Mexicans, but it would have been like setting gorillas loose in a squirrel cage.

 When it was suggested that I give the boyfriend the garter, though, I never even considered it. The girl with the bouquet was one of the hottest women I've ever seen, and who the hell gets to meet a Brazilian? All's I knew about was their famous waxes, and I was about to get my hand on her thighs, to boot. 
      I defused the situation by telling the BF (through a translator) that this was our tradition, it was fun and harmless, and if he still felt offended by the end of it, that he and I could go out back, and I'd put my thumbs through my belt loops and let him get a free shot at me... and then, to be fair, I said that if he tried taking any extra, I'd pull his arm off and beat him and his friends to death with it.

 And all proceeded to plan, except that the girl didn't speak English.
      The rest of the wedding was a bit of a blur. Still the most fun one I've ever been to, though, including my own. All the drama and pageantry, you know?

 Last thing I said when the wedding was winding down was "You know, I hope that hot foreign chick doesn't get beat up by that midget douchebag who almost caused a scene. He was absolutely the type."

 
 Turns out, I was right. He was psyching himself up to do exactly that when my future wife kicked him out of the car and told him to go to hell.
     I returned to sea not long after the wedding, for a 120-day voyage. Halfway through, the bride asked me if I wanted her to introduce me to the girl from the wedding. I said sure, when I get home in the spring, I'll take her out one night. And then I had a laugh and thought no more of it until I got home.


 Pretty sure I got mad points for remembering the date today, too. I just flew back to work today, and so I could use the boost. My ratings go down on crew change day.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ouch, damn, wow and whee, too.

What a great week off! I'm sorry it went so fast, and I'll have had only one week ashore amidst 15 weeks aboard the floating pickle barrels my company entrusts to me, but as far as the week goes? Worth it.

        Although I haven't had as much time at home as I'd like (and really, what mariner does?), I love my damn house- especially my patio. I'm sorry to say that my Dracaena plant isn't thriving, but my orchids are kicking ass. Every time I come home, I buy a plant for my patio. This trip it was a small lime tree, which so far seems to be fitting in. With the dry season underway, my pond is drawing down some, but still looks nice. I share it with my neighbors across the way, and happily, they're as into keeping it neat as I am. At any rate, although I'm told there are some 10-15lb carp in my pond, I have yet to catch anything but some bass.I swear there's one particularly runty 1lb'er that I've caught like 6 times. He just seems to like my section of the pond.


 At any rate, having spent so much time away, it was nice to continue the perpetual honeymoon with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and to have time with my son... or course, there wasn't much time for relaxing, with a 75-day backlog on the honey-do list, and what with having to send scads of money overseas this past month, I tried my best to be tight-fisted, with little success.

 So, tomorrow before sunup I'll be flying back to NY, there to take up my mantle as The Man Who Never Goes Home again.. but this time, while I AM arriving a week early, I'm going home on time for the holidays, and taking some extra time off for personal business, too.  


Saturday, November 8, 2014

ch-ch-ch changes

Well, I'm home. Last minute snafu resulted in me being able to go home for a week, rather than work this past week and go home next week.

    I realize that I left NY in rainy 40'ish weather, and on Monday morning I saw a couple of snowflakes at about 4am. By Wednesday I was walking down the beach with my kid, it's in the 80's and sunny, with surfers riding the decent swell just a couple hundred feet away.

 Seriously, I could downsize tomorrow, take up a 3rd career flipping burgers and do this full time, I guess. Must be stupid to be going back next week to the Land of Ice and Snow. Greedy me.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Last night

Tomorrow I say goodbye for a few weeks to HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Food Deprivation Center. I've been here, with a week's exception, since before labor day. 70+ days. Ugh.

 I'm not going home tomorrow. I'm going to the Punishment Barge. An awful bargain-basement purchase my company made last year, with living quarters smaller than my frigging bathroom at home, and a Flintstones-era cargo handling system.

 As I wrote a while back, this endurance trial was put on me when I had to step up to provide medical care for one of my wife's relatives, because one of her family members is a selfish asshole who won't provide care for blood. Unfortunately, this happened not too long after i up and moved my family 1500 miles and started a new life and lifestyle, costing more than I had available to give. But, family is family, I figure, so I went ahead and went in the hole.

 And all is well. Surgery was expensive but now paid for, and her recovery is going well down in Brazil. I have a savings account again, but I absolutely don't have my 'beer money if I break a leg and have to pay cash for bills" money, so I'm staying an 11th week. Holidays are coming, after all, too.

 But yeah, although I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work extra and beef up my savings, I'm about to take it in the seat for a week, relatively speaking. BUT, after that, I can go home.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

"We don't do that here."

Twice in the past month, I turned down the opportunity to make a couple of thousand dollars through oil theft.

 This is a slight uptick in our more usual rate of once every 3 months.

 Bunker theft has always been with us, probably since the second bunker transfer from one vessel to another. It's a modern day version of cappabar, the centuries-old practice of illegally selling off ship's spares and stores by the crew.

 It's an easy thing to do, and, if done sparingly and in small volumes, quite difficult to get caught in the doing.

 Bunkering is a dirty, dirty business. There's a stark dichotomy between practices in the US (And Canada &the UK, I would imagine), and practices in the rest of the world.

 In the US, a bunker vessel is maneuvered and moored alongside the receiving ship, papers are passed and a pro-forma agreement signed, stipulating how the transfer will proceed. Tax documents, invoices, etc, checklists, Homeland Security paper shields, too depending on where this happens. Caeser gets his rendering, y'know?  The formal, universal documentation is the Bunker Delivery Note (BDN), a chain-of-custody document that is also a contract AND invoice, attesting to the volume transferred. To document the volume of oil, we invite the receiving vessel to measure the volume and temperature of the oil in our tanks both before and after transferring the oil (Oil changes volume rapidly, as its' density changes easily with temperature. Knowing the temperature allows you to calculate the density of the oil, and account for expansion of volume, so you can figure out the actual standardized net volume). The difference between the two is the volume transferred and the billable quantity. 

 In the US, the numbers listed on the BDN are the numbers that will appear on the bill, which is shoreside staff business. My point, however, is that it's all very aboveboard, and there's no shoveling bullshit into the buckwheat. And it works! Maybe one time in 200, the receiving ship will bother  send someone down to look for residual oil in our now-empty tanks. Regular visitors often come to trust us, and specifically mention how happy they are to bunker here, 'and not in fucking Singapore.'

Not to say that it's all smooth. Most ships are built and crewed foreign, and trade foreign, as well, so they're used to doing what they need to do to get by. There are standard practices, and almost-standard practices. Bribery being one of the former, for the most part. Many engineers (fueling being in the purview of engineers) try to apply the same practices that work elsewhere when they step foot on my deck.

 Aaaaaannd, that shit don't fly here.

 Every single engineer who has ever tried to bribe me was either from Russia or Ukraine. Take what you will from that. I always ask, at some point. I'm a people person, and always try to make a little conversation, mostly because I miss sailing long distances, and, just like I know from experience that an Indian assistant engineer is usually afraid to take responsibility for making any decision whatsoever, fit only to carry messages to the Chief, and Eastern European crewmen are more likely to attempt to brain you with a monkey fist if you make them do their jobs, I can generally tell when I'm about to be sounded as to whether or not I'm up for playing Disappearing Bunkers. (Google "Bunker scams" if you want to know more.)










The Disappearing Bunker Scam works simply: As it is most commonly practiced in its' most egregious form, Let's say I was to deliver 400 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to a ship. The engineer comes down with a bottle of whiskey and wink wink nudge nudge, suggests that I transfer 375 tons, which he reports as 400, and I sell off the difference to 'someone' and throw a little cash his way for looking the other way, (and pay off the surveyor, if there is one); OR I transfer the 400 tons, but mark it as 375, change the temperature a little on the paperwork, claim 'heavy bottoms" (meaning I leave extra in my tanks and fake the numbers for my next load), and he gives me a little kickback, just a couple grand, as a thank you.

So, that's what I am occasionally asked to do by these scumbags, and it pisses me off. I learned quickly that blurting out "Are you calling me a fucking thief?" gets me no end of trouble, as the now-butthurt engineer will go to great lengths to find a way to fuck me over. Instead, I have to go into Boy Scout/Astronaut mode and lecture these assbags, and hide behind a more formal, severe demeanor and a quiet,scowling moral authority.Regardless, the whisky, too, is not welcome. Shit's taboo, ever since Exxon tried to blame one of their captains when the officer of the watch on one of their ships crashed into Alaska while he was sleeping in his bed like he was supposed to be.
I happen to like good scotch, so seeing that shit while I'm working is just rubbing my face in it. For the same reason, I don't go to strip bars (anymore).


 BUT, there's also the legal Disappearing Bunker Scam. I discovered this last year, while bunkering outside the US. It's apparently a standard business practice, and conspicuous by its' absence, judging by the reaction of the engineers we dealt with.
     In the legal Disappearing Bunker Scam, at the completion of the transfer, you 'negotiate' the difference between what they ship says it received, and what the bunker vessel says it transferred. I always can pick out 'honest' engineers who don't regularly bunker in the US. Same thing every time: "Twinty tones shoht, my friend, twinty tones, yis yis." That's their opening position, and they expect me to make a show, like we're in a fucking Egyptian market haggling over some goddamned limes.

This must be a pervasive practice, as I occasionally deal with disgruntled engineers who get pretty bent out of shape when I shrug my shoulders and casually tell them to document any difference with a Letter of Protest if they choose to. (A LOP is a discoverable document explaining the vessel's position on an event. As it holds legal status, asking someone to document any dispute is a fine way to call their bluff. Since I'm 100% honest (not my circus, not my monkeys, why not be honest?)), I demand the same. Once an engineer realizes I won't play his reindeer games, things usually proceed in a surly but aboveboard fashion.

 Only once have I been goaded into a heated response, when a ship claimed I shorted him about 20% of his oil. After he had a meltdown on my deck because I told him he got the oil, and to recheck his tanks (this is a nice way to avoid calling someone a fucking liar and let him save face), I was feeling pretty soggy and hard to light, so when I suggested that I'd be happy to sign a Letter of Protest for him, and he demurred in an energetic, angry fashion, I smelled a rat, and said "If you're 100% sure that I'm lying and cheating, give me a letter of protest for it, and you can put your mouth where my money is. This isn't Singapore. It's the US and we don't do that here."

 I don't think he got my little play on words, feeble as it was, but it made me feel better. What I really wanted to do was to chase his midget ass up the ladder for lying in my face, but what can you do?

 The more I deal with foreign places and foreign business, the more I appreciate things inside our own borders, where the government manages and practices 99% of the thievery and corruption, just like God intended.



For a more nuanced, professional view on bribery by an experienced mariner, check this out:

http://www.workboat.com/Blogs/International-Waters/Vessel-operators-and-foreign-corrupt-practices/


 For any maritime professional who doesn't know the guy, Max Hardberger is one of those rare birds, a master mariner who sailed foreign ships, owned one or two, and is also an Admiralty lawyer. Oh, and he re-steals ships that are illegally detained in foreign ports, too. For a living. Guy's the real deal.