Our last cargo brought up and interesting question for me.
It was a pretty standard job for us. Fuel for an Old Panamax container ship. A medium-sized cargo parcel for refueling a ship. 2,900 tons of Heavy Fuel Oil (bunker fuel) and 250 tons of Marine Gas Oil (diesel).
Eastern European crew, turns out. When we were alongside, the crew met us very quickly- sometimes we have to wait 20+ minutes for the crew to show up on scene. These guys were there. I had an issue with language when I asked where their fuel manifolds were- they weren't readily visible. The guy pointed to where I figured they'd be, then yelled something and pointed forward. So I repeated my question. Pantomime works, usually. These guys, monoglots or not, are used to travelling the world, but I wasn't getting something. Eventually I figured out that the guy pointing at shit was more interested in telling me where to tie up than where the manifolds were. This is odd, as where we catch lines depends on where my manifold is relative to the ship, where our tugboat needs the line to be, and what direction we, the ship, and the wind and current is coming from. So where we catch lines? That's on us. Me and the tug captain. Eventually, I just stopped everything until it was made clear that we all were on the same page. The AB's (Able Seaman, an experienced deckhand) on the ship were fast and efficient, and responsive to my requests, orders and direction. This is unusual and kinda nice. No common sense, sadly, but we were tying up two boats, not building them.
The ship's Chief engineer was a contrast to this. Intelligent, decisive and flexible. Quick and effective guy. We got the cargo transfer started quickly and I went to bed.
This morning I woke up in time to finish the discharge. When it was done, again, with efficiency, the Chief and I had our post-transfer meeting, and he signed and stamped my papers, and I did the same with his, wished each other a safe voyage, and off we go. The weather was shitty, blowing about 20-25 and rainy, but so it goes. Our tug came alongside, and we made up the tug. When the tugboat deckhand came on board and we talked about what was wanted and needed, I waved to the AB's on the ship, and pointed aft towards my stern line, where they could shelter under a container and stand by until we were ready to cast off lines.
It takes a few minutes to get all the ducks in a row before we can sail- I'm still making small talk with the deckhand while the tug captain is taking a leak prior to getting in his chair to get us off the ship. As it happens, the ship had a slight list as it rolled- three container cranes were taking three containers off the ship at the same time, and the ship rolled a fair bit, putting some slack in all my mooring lines. The ships' AB's immediately threw the two stern lines off and into the water.
This is bad. With no stern lines and a fair bit of current, we could dent or hole the ship by going metal-on-metal my hull against his. Our fendering is on fixed slides that lower hydraulically on the parallel midbody of my hull, so if we are not parallel to the ship, my bow or stern will contact his, steel on steel.
Now, everyone knows you don't throw off lines until everyone's ready. That only makes sense, right?
The tug captain happened to be getting into his wheelhouse at the moment this was going on. He just jumped on the radio, said "Oh, well, fuck it, let 'em go." and we made a silk purse out of a sow's ear, casting off while the tug got us square to the ship again. Working at jogging pace, we got lines in much faster than was strictly optimal, but it worked.
This got me thinking, though. Those AB's were fast. We DID cast off, and it didn't take 10 minutes as it sometimes does. Everything they did, they did fast. And, truth be told, there's room for AB's with more balls than brains. Ideally, you have both, but provided a firm hand can keep an AB with a strong back working correctly and safely, the job can get done.Granted, you can't leave guys like that to use their experience to make good decisions. Micromanagement might be needed. But you know, we saved at least two hours on that job because whoever was in charge of the cargo watch on that ship sent Mongo and Lenny to do as I asked. I made an assumption that they'd know enough to do so in the usual way, and I guess that's on me, assuming that they guys would ask for confirmation when you order them to stand by a line to be cast off... but you know that assumption is the mother of all fuckups too.
Now, I wouldn't actually want to work with a window-licking level deck gang if given a choice, of course, but it does grate on me that so often getting foreign AB's off their ass requires kissing it first. So it was refreshing not to spend 10 minutes having a yelled conversation with cries of 'My friend!' every other phrase, to get them to do 10-15 second's work. We got lucky nothing went wrong on cast off today, but you know, it was kinda nice to get the hell out of there so quickly too.