Tuesday, November 24, 2009


UPDATE:OK, so I'm a little slow. Upon reflection, by which I mean upon my port captain telling me what I missed, the engineer was desperately trying to get me to go along with his scheme of bribing me to 'buy back' some of the fuel he ordered. This old fashioned bunkering scam, which I have heard of, but have never actually seen, goes like this:

1)The engineer orders 800 tons of heavy fuel oil.
2)I show up with his 800 tons. I pump, say, 775 tons to him.
3). I give him half of the value of the other 25 tons in cash.
4). I blend the leftover 25 tons into my next order, thus saving myself or my employer the cost of 12.5 tons of oil.

Except that I don't cheat, I don't lie, and I don't work for anyone who does do those things, it's a clever plan. In the rest of the world, it might even work. It might even be 'the way things are done,' which is usually a way of saying that I am supposed to believe that an illegal or unsafe practice is standard business practice in the foreign trade. Except that this isn't the foreign trade. Anyhow, shame on me for not recognizing one of the most common scams in the merchant marine.

I've experienced the way maritime commerce in theUS works, and I've heard rumors of how it works elsewhere, but I had yet to really experience the scumbag factor until today.

We're discharging a modest parcel of Intermediate Fuel oil, as well as a separate cargo of diesel oil. There were some headaches involved, like getting crewmen to hook up the fuel hoses, and getting the engineer out of bed to sign the paperwork. I was a little annoyed that I lost two hours before we even hooked up a hose. So it goes.
The first chink in the armor comes when one of the crew asks me if I bought the oil myself. No, says I, I'm a sailor like you, I don't own anything but the shoes I'm walking in. Strange question. I thought no more about it.
The ship was an old russian-built bulker, at the end of her service life, or maybe a little beyond that. She was well maintained at one point, but no longer.
It takes me only an hour to get rid of the little bit of black oil. The stuff screamed out of the tanks. I have to honk the ship's horn on our tug to get the guys to switch hoses. I lose another hour there, to a 15-minute job.
The diesel comes off easily, too. Then we're supposed to pass paperwork, and I'm supposed to leave. Except there's no one on deck.
After an hour of waiting, screaming, and throwing bolts at the house on the ship, I pass the buck, and have the ship's agent call the captain. 2 minutes later, the engineer comes out. He refuses to give me the paperwork. "Forget the paperwork," he says. "I give you new paperwork." He is pinching his thumb and forefinger together. No shit, the guy probably wanted to give me a thousand bucks or so for about $50,000 worth of oil. I ignore him. The guy then loses his ability to speak English, mysteriously. I reasonably ask him to be 'a goddam professional here,' and he responds by walking away. I am alone again.
So, I pass the buck again, wait an hour, and phone calls get made, and I hear some shouting, and then the Engineer shows up, sends me the paperwork, and scoots off. I am left to get my last hose back aboard, and the engineer gets the last laugh; he left the diesel hose cracked open, and about a pint of diesel oil sprays across 50 feet of my deck in fine droplets. I get to spend 30 minutes on my hands and knees cleaning up my deck.
I know that most foreign mariners view Americans as gullible and simple, but damn. Really, as my wife pointed out, it's difficult to believe that we tend to be honest, because most of the world is a different way. Still, I can't help but wonder what they're putting in the borscht on that ship. Maybe I was too friendly and accommodating to that ship. Gave too much benefit and not enough doubt. Whatever it was, I don't think that engineer was expecting me to blow up at him.

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