Tuesday, January 4, 2011

thou dost protest too much...

I received my first Letter Of Protest the other night.
For anyone not in the know, a Letter of Protest is a document that is handed off when a responsible party does not want to be held responsible for something that they feel is your fault; they're protesting, and thus the name. While it's not a legal document, strictly speaking, it serves to protect the issuer from blame in the case of mishandling fuel, stores, cargo, equipment, etc, when something just ain't right.

And so it was that last listed circumstance that nibbled on my buns oh-so-vigorously the other night.

I was holding a pre-bunkering conference with some engineers, at my dinner table aboard, in fact, and we got hung up on a couple of items. One in particular was troublesome. First off, I will not go aboard a ship from my side- once my feet are off my own deck I have a 4,000 ton baby with no babysitter, so that shit don't fly. The engineers must come to me when they want to talk about how they're getting their fuel that day.
In the matter of transfer of fuel oils, witnessing and sampling of cargo as it changes custody is done under carefully documented circumstances using standardized procedures, as agreed under a heaping pile of applicable conventions related to commerce. Among the most humble and simple of these is the matter of how we ensure that we get a consistent sample of all the cargo in all the tanks- we simply collect oil just as it enters the pipeline stretched between the vessels. Upon sampling, the collected oil is decanted into sample bottles, signed by both parties, and sealed using a mechanical zip-tie like numbered seal. Simple.

Engineers being a fastidious bunch, and me being mortally afraid of running afoul of any of the literally thousands of applicable regulations and laws pertaining to oil transfer, this process usually runs very smoothly, with each party doing their part... so it was strange to me that the engineer freaked out when I told him that I would take my own samples, he could take his own, and we'd exchange, under each others' supervision, as listed under the MARPOL treaty.

The man in question had a controlled document from his employer that dictated how and where samples would be taken. This policy was rigidly defined, in excess of international regulatory standards, which is fine, if irksome. The problem was that the engineer wanted to take all samples from his sample port, aboard his vessel, under my watchful eye. His vessel being 50 feet taller than mine at deck level, and what with me having to actually manage the cargo discharge, plus the probability of being fired and/or jailed for fucking off when I was supposed to be keeping my eyes on my own deck operations, I was unwilling to concede that he take all samples while I remain a holy innocent, 50 feet under his rail on the other side of the hull. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, I just don't delegate this sort of thing.
Now, being both polite and professional people, we worked out a compromise to our satisfaction. No Letter of Protest needed. We proceeded to pass papers and start the discharge shortly thereafter.

When all was said and done, hours later, we passed papers again, to sign off custody of the cargo and such... and there for me was my very first Letter of Protest relating to a different matter. It seems the engineer didn't like the form we use for our Bunker Delivery Receipt. I don't know if it was the color or the texture, but anyhow, in a grand game of CYA, I got my cherry busted, I guess, to be crude. Really, the details aren't that interesting. What was interesting (to me) was that his company's internal policies were in excess of international requirements in several different areas- in this sense, both of us were in unenviable positions; he found something he had to note (at the last minute, I suspect), and I was the deer in the headlights, sort of. In a game of mutual CYA, we both did our parts. To avoid potential butthurt on the home front, the engineer had to zing us, I guess, in order to dot his I's and cross his t's, and I had to graciously receive the letter, being aware that it was kind of bullshit, but such comments being nonconstructive.

Much like sex with Kobe Bryant, Letters of Protest are going to happen whether or not you want them, I guess. In the meanwhile, I duly signed the form (marked 'for receipt only,' because such things are above my pay grade and I am merely the manager of this floating gas station) and filed it, and we parted ways amicably. So it goes.


TheLordThyGod said...

What happens now?
Does the letter go on some permanent record to haunt you later, or is that the end of it?

Paul, Dammit! said...

Nothing, in this case, as it was a BS issue related to the fine print in a contract. In the case of something more serious, it can be used to renegotiate bills and justify changes in pricing and such.

Ken E Beck said...

Hey Paul,

Interesting to see what happens on the other end of the bunker hose.

As far as a letter of protest, I figure any operation without incident is a successful one. If the oil got transferred without a spill and crew members and vessels are still in one piece when you cut loose it's on to the next one.

Someone once told me that when you retire your incident file might be a half inch thick, but some other file are two or three inches.

We have issued letters a couple of times on shortages, it gets resolved somewhere, we never hear the outcome.