Monday, September 14, 2009

close calls, and some wheezing.

One of the best pieces of professional advice that I've received came in the form of an admonishment from a close friend/supervisor aboard my ship. I had failed to see a valve that was left open whilst we were moving cargo slops off of the ship. An engineer had opened a small valve to drain down a pipeline so he could change out a valve in the system, and long story short, I allowed wash water to recirculate into a tank, rather than transferring it, which cost us about 30 minutes of waiting time. After being chewed out rather thoroughly, we went over the valve lineup, and I was told that I needed to be more aware of where the cargo COULD go, as well as being aware of where I wanted it to go. The learning portion of this discussion came in the form of learning to think in terms of making suction, vacuum, and pressure waves work for me, to be aware that there is more than one way to do most things.

So, yesterday was a long, long day. I made a dumb mistake that almost caused an excessive ROB (Remainder On Board, cargo that gets left in a tank) because of a Day One style error. Essentially what happened is that part of this particular cargo order was a tiny little parcel of diesel oil (20 tons, which, in shipping, is just a sip), just barely enough to prime the cargo pump to move the oil. Because the cargo was mostly made up of a different product, I loaded us unevenly- that is, I loaded the other tanks evenly with heavy oil, and I put the diesel in a port-side tank, which gave us about one degree of list.
Now, here's where I made an error. I work well with my partners on here, because we're always on the same page. Yesterday, I had a helper who was new to the barge- and he left one of the tank valves cracked open at the end of the load, to drain down our cargo pipelines... this happened to be the tank that was supposed to be empty, opposite the tank with the diesel in it.
So, before I opened the diesel tank to prime the cargo pump, I walked around and made sure that the other diesel tank valve was closed. I gave it a quick tug, and it didn't move (turns out, there was a full turn left in that valve-the valve was just a little stiff), and I proceeded to prime the pump. When I engaged the pump, however, she kept grabbing air and losing prime. After a couple of tries to get the pump started, I discovered what had happened. About 8 tons of oil had crossed over into the empty tank. I found the sticky-but-not closed valve, and closed it, and proceeded to play games.
Everyone has some tricks up their sleeve, things that can be done when push comes to shove at work... I used some simple tricks to finally catch prime on my pump, but I could only keep the prime for my active diesel tank- the other tank with the 8 (about 5-6 inches deep in the tank, if you're curious) tons sloshing around just couldn't pick up suction. So I did some praying to whatever saint is the saint of cargo operations, and proceeded to pump the living hell out of my one available tank, and made plans to fall on my sword and get R.O.B.'d for about 40% of the diesel cargo, which would create a serious black mark on my work record.
Along the way, I started thinking about suction and pressure waves. Every time I opened up the valve to my slack diesel tank, I let another couple of barrels siphon put of my active tank, and gravitate into the slack tank. I started catching and losing prime a couple of times as I opened and closed the valve to the slack tank, each time praying that I could pick up prime again (very dicey!). After a half-dozen cycles, I cracked the valve to the slack tank just a hair, and proceeded to focus on my active tank... this would cause a trickle of diesel to leak through the valve, and, I hoped, eventually create little slugs of cargo in the pipeline between air bubbles. My thought was that there was a chance that the pump would get enough suction to compress the bubbles enough to maybe catch prime when I opened up my slack tank.
When my active tank started running dry, I made a flying tank transfer- that is, I opened the valve to the slack tank and sprinted to the active tank to close it off, then waited... the pump wound out, losing prime, then caught a good slug of cargo, and started winding out again, and cyclically, stated grabbing and losing prime. I had a froth of diesel and air in my pump, but damn me for a liar if I didn't slowly get all the diesel out of my tanks...
When it was done, I could smell the fear-sweat on me- you know that smell, where you catch a strong ammonia stink on you? I can't tell you how angry I was at myself. I got lucky, very lucky, and I almost cost my company thousands of dollars (in both lost sales and labor, as it's a big pain in the ass to get a cleanup crew and tanker truck to siphon out a tank that won't catch prime) for a stupid mistake.
So why am I sharing? I dunno, maybe penance. I'm a big fan of going slow and doing a job properly. It's not my usual M.O. to skip or forget a step when dealing with oil. My chief mate/good friend/teacher that I was talking about was very open with his opinion of me- "Paul's not the fastest guy out there, but he's careful, and always does the job right." Sort of a double-edged compliment in a business that rewards speed.
Anyhow, today I feel achy all over. I was so tensed up for the hour it took to get that diesel off, that I ache like hell.

Oh, and I've got bronchitis. Awesome.


Charlotte said...

I have had know that coughing thing a bob...three times now as an adult and excuse the language but it 'sucks'. Hope to get to feeling better!

Everybody makes mistakes, yours are just prone to be more expensive than most. Forgive yourself and move on.


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