Tuesday, August 27, 2019

broken voyage

Dammit. Gotta break this trip a week early. Head back home to shutter the house. Doesn't look like much of a storm, but I have an awful lot of windows and trees right near the windows.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Midway day

Well, yesterday was halfway day on this tour, and we're well and truly in the doldrums here aboard the HQ. Routine AF. Boring is good, and this is true. But boring is also boring. Nothing too exciting.

Monday, August 19, 2019

light days

Not much has gone right in the past 48 hours, but I have a watch off, so I'm going to enjoy it by watching boatbuilding videos and doing minimal work-related work.

 If you came here from Peter Grant's page, welcome! I don't always tell stories that turn the stomach, and I don't normally have an absolutely awful job. Some days are just... shitty. So to speak.

 We bunkered an absolutely massive CMA-CGM container ship a few days ago, one of the largest vessels to ever call on New York. Between my deck height and my crane height, I was reaching 75 feet in the air, and I could only reach about 2 feet under their lowest deck. Just an absolute beast, but the crew was amazing. So fast and responsive. Makes a huge difference in our workflow.

...and then we did another CMA-CGM ship last night and it was just rage-inducing. Crew were a soggy bag of smashed assholes.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Code Brown on board

We had a Code Brown emergency on board the HQ last weekend. It's been  a busy week, and between our schedule and the recovery time needed, today was my first real chance to write about it.

    Hiding behind technobabble, we had an explosive loss of containment in the Marine Sanitation device. Put simply, the shit tank blew up REALLY energetically in a confined space.

 How bad was it? There was shrapnel (crapnel? Heh.) out to about 25 ft, and as the MSD is located in a void space underdeck, and that space runs the full width and full depth of the HQ. So, it's 50 by 20 by 20, with closely spaced framing running across all surfaces. Framing that traps liquids and solids to a depth of about 6 inches.

 So, the shit tank blew out, unfortunately more or less straight up, and put simply, it contaminated the entire compartment.

 I won't lie. I considered sealing the compartment, putting in my notice and finding new employment, but there wasn't much to do but fix the problem.  We had to wait 24 hours to get time and space and the equipment necessary to handle it.  When it was time, we docked at company HQ on a sunny, hot and humid day.
      The technical part, causing the failure, was that an air regulator (MSD's are made to break down the poop a bit using bacterial colonies, so they need air, like a really really awful aquarium) failed, so the tank got...impacted. a Blivvy, in other words.
  Before the engineers could come at the problem, though, we had to set up ventilation, using big air horns under compressed air to blow out the space and test the air. After just an hour, the compartment registered perfectly safe.

 So, me being unwilling to pass such an awful task to anyone else, I took a solo adventure into the compartment with a high-pressure garden hose and fresh water. No fire hoses for this sort of work. Too much risk of blowback. I put on a Tyvek suit, rubber boots and rubber gloves duct taped to the suit, a bandanna over my head, goggles and a respirator.

 And I went down into that 100+ degree dark and drippy hell to the first platform, 10 feet down, opened up the MSD fully, (protip, don't look in the tank. Pretty sure my hair is gonna come in all white now), and fired up the hose, flushing down everything from overhead, the bulkheads, and the grating, down to the bilge. While I was doing this  a vacuum truck came in, with a septic tank crew, and put a hose in the bottom of the compartment.
 I then lifted the planks separating the platform deck from the tank tops at the bottom and crawled down another 10 feet below into the darkness.

Dodging the water droplets still falling from above, I cleaned up that space, and it took an hour. By the end I was overheated and gasping for air, and just as I finished, the air meter clipped to my suit zipper went off- stirring the shit displaced enough oxygen that it was time to go anyhow. So I headed up, and felt poorly for a while, with minor heat exhaustion and having been breathing mephitic, slightly oxygen poor air for so long.
 After about 30 minutes, a half-gallon of water and pouring the sweat out of my boots, I went down with a case of bleach, and sanitized the compartment, then rinsed and vacuumed it out with the hose from the honey wagon on the dock. Took about 45 minutes. Then repeat with a 5 gallon bucket of powerful concentrated soap. And rinse. Only THEN could I approach the MSD and vacuum out the... contents, then rinse, sanitize and rinse again. At that point the engineers came in and fixed the actual problem, and I was so overheated and ill that I jumped in the shower and sat in a chair for an hour, feeling poorly, drinking water slowly.

 It was hell. But OTOH, we have a shiny happy crapper tank, so we can do our business in a businesslike manner again, I guess.
 I threw away everything I was wearing, right down to my socks and drawers. It all went into a bucket, and after my shower, I put on gloves, closed the bucket, put it into a heavy plastic bag, and that went to the dumpster. At that point I was done. Our shoreside staff didn't ask any more out of me, which is good, as I was done in a literal sense. It took almost 2 days before I felt 100%. Getting older, getting heat-sick is not so easy to snap back from.

Monday, August 12, 2019

slips and falls

There have been two fatalities recently on American ships.


          These were falls related to work performed on military-contracted cargo ships. The Military Sealift Command are the folks who move beans, bombs and bullets for the US military, and they're ships crewed by civilians.

   I've never worked for MSC. I have never heard anything positive about working for MSC beyond that any mariner in need of sea time to qualify to test in order to advance in rank can do so quickly. In other words, you're away a lot.

          From what I've been told, MSC employment consists of a lot of sitting at docks in places like Norfolk, and even more sitting at docks in places like Guam, with trips to sea feeding and following naval ships.

     I've also been told that there is no going home as scheduled when your time is up. The MSC 4-month contract often enough ends up taking 4-8 months to see you relieved after your time is done, so that's up to a year at sea in a single voyage. And this I actually have seen.

 I was taking the Medical Person-In-Charge (MED-PIC) course years ago at MITAGS, a maritime school in Maryland. Week one was MED-PRO, or Medical First Aid Provider, basically how to put on bandaids and ace bandages. After that was the fun stuff, stitching, injections and IV's, intro to diagnostics, etc.  Well, we had one MSC guy, a cargo mate, who had been working 10-months or so a year for the last 15 years. He hadn't been home in, sure enough, over a year, and had to take this course, poor guy. He'd been divorced, of course, and hadn't seen his teenage daughter in a couple of years and was so excited about that. Well, week one gets done, we all finish MED-PRO, and on like Wednesday of week 2, he gets recalled to his ship after 10 FUCKING DAYS for another cruise out in the ass end of the Pacific. Guy never got to see his house, let alone his daughter. 10 days off in 2 years. That's insane.

 So that's what I know about MSC, that and they have a higher accident rate than most if not all other sectors of maritime trade. I doubt it's a single-source issue, in terms of root causes, I mean, MSC does UNREPS and other dangerous tasks... but I've also heard complaints about competence among unlicensed crew, and high rates of theft, violence and even a little light prostitution, although I have a hard time buying that last one. So my take is that there are probably more links in the causality chains that lead to accidents on MSC ships than dingleberries like me are likely to face, which at the end of the day means statistically higher potential rates for accidents.
  I'm perhaps not doing service by not exploring this subject further, in that it would be really interesting to actually identify if MSC has a weaker safety culture at operational level than other companies do, or if there are other factors involved, or if it's just a matter of risk management in higher-risk work. But, truth be told, I don't actually care enough to do the work involved. I have my own problems and my own little floating hot dog cart to worry about.
         The safety guys in my employer's HSE department probably spend a lot of time grinding their teeth. Lots of guys, myself included, at times, are resistant to certain safety practices that appear to offer less benefit than cost, at least until something happens, anyhow. Cost, to me at the operational end, means getting my own ass hurt or killed. For the HSE guys, it means paying out a shit ton of cash times something like 600 guys. So I do see the point pretty clearly. My old attitude of  'hey, it's my ass and my decision to ignore the safety nannies and not wear a condom when out on deck, and just raw dog the shit out of that cargo discharge in comfort' doesn't work when you have 600 guys doing higher-risk stuff and probabilities being a thing. Plus, times being what they are, the retards who want to wear fucking flip-flops out on deck are the first ones calling the lawyers when they lose a toe.

 With TWO exceptions, I understand these things. My disagreement with PPE standards comes on clothing and hard hats for tankermen. Most shipping companies require mariners who are potentially exposed to fuel oils to wear coveralls. I think I still have my nomex-and-cotton coveralls from when I worked for American Heavy Lift.
 Here is where I am at odds with HSE standards for clothing,  and pretty much always have been. Full suits in hot weather, to me, is not necessarily the best idea, unless you have an unlimited supply of coveralls available. Myself, I was issued 2 pairs per 120-day voyage in my tanker days, and if they were ruined, needle and thread and rags to make up the missing material. Carrying residual fuel cargoes (bunkers and diesel), let's say an ounce of oil gets on my sleeve. After I notice it, and who knows how long that will take, I curse, and wipe it off, maybe even throw some soap on it, but I'm going to still wear that garment, and the whole while, petroleum residue is going to be contacting my skin, and even if 90% of it comes out in the wash (it won't) I'm going to be exposed for an extended period. Distillates flash off. Residual fuels do not.
 OTOH, lets' say I'm in a t-shirt, and an ounce of oil gets on my arm. I'm going to curse. Then wipe off  95+% of whatever doesn't run off my arm and hit the deck. Within a moment, I am going to hit that oil spot with soap or other cleaner... and then its' gone. Time-weighted average for exposure is in favor of the man in shirtsleeves.
 But, truth be told, this ignores other factors, like potential for burns, cuts, scratches, things like that that coveralls would have prevented. OTOH, I have fried enough brain cells after one summer in the southern Gulf of Mexico, to know that I'd rather deal with the consequences of being out of uniform than to get heatstroke twice in a 10-day period again. You don't bounce back from that quickly, and even less quickly when it happens twice. I had headaches and nausea on and off for over a month, and after that experience, I learned quickly that however much the safety nannies may wish that you operate safely, the job will need to get done in a timely manner, and if if is not done in a timely manner, you will be, at best, resented. I have never found saying no to work to not have consequences, myself.
 The other disagreement I have with maritime PPE standards is the wearing of hard hats outdoors. This I don't really care about that much, except that it's kabuki at best, in exchange for mild discomfort, which, end of the day, is no big deal, except that I hate kabuki policy for its' inherent dishonesty. The protection hard hats offer from overhead impacts is not an issue when there's nothing overhead, and I  personally have never experienced something falling on deck where a hard hat would have saved a life. Obviously they have their place. I wouldn't want to work on a supply boat or an oil rig without one, for sure! For my own part, most anything that goes up high is on my crane, or a crane, and will kill anyone under it if it lets go, regardless of what they're wearing. The smallest dangerous overhead objects I have to worry about falling on me are turnbuckle parts and twist locks from a shipping container, neither of which are going to be stopped by a hard hat. Getting hit by either means a closed casket funeral regardless of what's on one's head. For that reason, we never work under a shipping container that is being lashed or unlashed, and certainly, we never work under a container that is being lifted, and in the case of being adjacent to a container being moved, we're eye-banging that thing nonstop. It's been a few years since a container dropped on a bunker barge, but it happened not that long ago, and I've twice been there when a container was knocked into the water close to us by a crane operator who was smoking his lunch. Wearing a hard hat in those situations is like when Wile E. Coyote opens the dainty little umbrella as the giant rock falls on him.
 I suppose there is always the possibility of vertically flying objects, things thrown from a collision or a chain snapping, or whatever. When required, I do wear one  because it isn't a big deal and it makes the office happy, not because I believe I am more safe with one on. A certain amount of cynicism applies.

  I rarely work aloft, but I do take it pretty serious when I do. I don't mind heights at all, but I do mind that my ass is at the higher end of the weight limit for the harnesses I have aboard. THAT makes me more nervous than not relying on a harness at all. My own approach is never to use the harness to take up weight, in effect, acting as though it is not there, while it's there. I find this works pretty well, although other than light bulb changing, I am not working aloft much at all these days, which is fine by me.

 Slips and falls, OTOH, happen to us a lot, and preventing them is a big deal here on the HQ. I absolutely am a nazi when it comes to no slick spots on deck, applying nonskid and keeping tripping hazards (of which there are many) to a minimum. Even so, I fall down every few months, I'll admit. I am very aware of what my ankles and wrists will be doing when I step over things I can't go around. We do have some on-deck piping that would snap an ankle if you got a foot stuck and then did a pratfall. As such I like my deck looking like 30-grit sandpaper, and even so, I still end up on my ass here and there. Shit happens, so I want to be sure that when shit happens,  it as as mild as possible. More graceful people than I would probably never fall, but I am no ballerina. With the exception of eye protection, proper footwear is probably the single largest safety item one can wear in my situation.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

back to the bunker mines

I'm back at work already, and although time passes by much too fast when I'm home, I just got a whole shit-ton of stuff done while I was there. Along the way we celebrated Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's birthday a few days early, as it's actually tomorrow, and, well, here I am at work and not with her where I should be. So we went out to a Palm Beach gem of a hotel bar, a place called the Leopard Lounge , which, turns out, is a restaurant/nightclub  for exceptionally wealthy people... of a certain age. At early-stage middle age, we were by far the youngest couple there, until some WASPy couple came in and stared at their phones and ignored each other, anyhow, but they didn't stay. 

 We stayed. Diner was exceptional- Chilean sea bass for my wife, a shrimp stroganoff for me, along with a couple of drinks. The crowd ranged from 55 to 80 for the most part, and very wealthy and very white, which made Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife stand out like a fly in a bowl of milk. But, turns out everyone was super nice. And, amazingly, enough, they were mostly there to dance.  Seriously, at that age, folks were out there, and the live band playing 70's numbers (it was a 70's night) was fantastic. And some of those folks were really moving well, for slow numbers and fast. 

 Now, I have to be pretty well shitfaced to get out there and dance. Well, I used to. Turns out, in a welcoming atmosphere, I only had to be half in the wrapper to be comfortable enough to dance. But bearing in mind that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is from Brazil, the woman can dance. Following her was hard at times. Doing some real samba dancing made us look good, and I didn't even fuck it up or anything. 

Plus, um... my wife looked good, and anyone dancing flawlessly in stiletto heels is going to be worth watching. For me the highlight was seeing a couple, 80'ish years old, who danced every single slow song all night, and just radiated having been being happily married for ages. A departing group even said 'good night you kids' to us, which is funny in that we're knocking on middle-age at this point.
beauty and the beast.

 After the band said goodnight, we decided to head over to HMF, the club at the Breakers hotel, also in Palm Beach, for a glass of champagne before heading home. This is one of our favorite spots, as we always see celebrities or sports figures there, and it's a gorgeous, elegant place, but again, also hideously expensive, so we maybe go twice a year.
Anyhow, end result was a memorable and fun night, I pulled another memorable birthday off, and just a few days later, I am back on the HQ to let my liver and checking account have a little rest.