MAHSEER. Cargo Tallying

John Leary
16th October 2005, 21:23
In previous threads there have been posts about R/O’s duties. This story relates to what I think was something of a contentious issue, namely cargo tallying. As far as I know using a radio officer for cargo tallying work was never standard practice within Brocklebank’s although I heard it was in some other shipping companies.

The first time that I was requested to do this work was on my second deep-sea trip in Mahseer in 1964. The ship was in the Red Sea on its outbound voyage to Colombo.

The first inkling that I had was when the chief R/O mentioned that the mate wanted me to tally cargo on arrival at Port Sudan.

I have to admit that I had never considered the possibility of this type of work as it had not been raised during my previous voyages on Mahseer and was certainly never explained to me as a condition of service when I was interviewed for the job in the Liverpool office.

Being new to the sea and inexperienced I was not sure what I should do. I had no interest whatsoever in doing it but I did not wish to make life difficult for myself particularly as the ship was in the early stages of a 4-5 month voyage.

Before going to marine wireless college as a mature student, I was time served and qualified in communications. I have to say therefore that although I wanted to go to sea from a very early age, my primary interest in life was and has been radio communications.

If you have stayed with me this far you might be asking what has all this to do with cargo tallying to which I have to reply not a lot in one sense but a great deal in another because when the mate asked me to go down the number four hold to tally cargo I refused.

You can imagine the response that provoked with dire warnings about refusing to obey an order. The outcome was that very shortly afterwards I was summoned to appear before the old man where the request was repeated.

The captain, who I liked, had taken over command of Mahseer halfway through the previous voyage. He explained that it was a legitimate request and that I could be disciplined for refusing which could mean being docked pay or even receive an adverse record in my discharge book at the end of the voyage.

I had gone this far and having been stubborn all my life, did not wish to back down. Also I could recognise the thin end of a very thick wedge because if I did it once, I could anticipate being called on to tally cargo in every port throughout the remainder of that voyage. I remained adamant that I would not tally cargo even if my decision ended my sea-going career.

In my own defence I would say that on this and the previous deep sea voyage I had earnt a good reputation as someone who could fix things having successfully repaired of lot of private and ship borne equipment that was not related to the ship’s wireless installation. It was not therefore an attitude based on a rigid view of what an R/O should do. Cargo tallying was just work that was as alien to me as it would have been to a ships engineer or electrician.

The old man then said that he would not take immediate action against me but would write to the company seeking advice on what to do. To his great credit he said I would not be forced to tally cargo until head office issued instructions.

The voyage continued as planned with visits to Assab, Massawa, Djibouti and Aden, before the final leg to Colombo. Just before the commencement of the voyage home after we had loaded in Colombo, I was summoned to the captain’s cabin again and told that the company had still not replied to any of his letters regarding my refusal to tally cargo. He said that he very much regretted that the company had not replied to his letters, (note the plural)but I have to admit that I was greatly relieved because it let me off the hook for a little while longer.

He then said that as the matter remained unresolved he would not ask me to tally cargo again. He was true to his word and I have to acknowledge that he and the navigating officers were always helpful and friendly towards me even after my refusal to do that work.

The ship paid off in Tilbury and I was naturally apprehensive about whether I would receive an adverse report in my discharge book. As it turned out I need not have worried because I received a VG for both conduct and ability.

I was however instructed by the radio department to stay with the ship and coast it as a single R/O round to Liverpool, which I did arriving in mid October. On arriving at Liverpool I was asked to go and see the Chief Radio Superintendent for what I considered was likely to be a huge dressing down and instant dismissal.

What happened after I was ushered into his office was something that I had never ever considered as the likely outcome. The radio superintendent who was an absolutely charming man who you might now describe as “old school” had been with the company for all his working life and had interviewed me when I had first applied to the company for employment. After the normal pleasantries and having been given a cup of tea, he said that although my action could not be condoned he fully understood the stance I had taken. Because the company did not wish to lose me I was to go on leave and when I returned it would be as a Chief R/O! I WAS BEING PROMOTED.

As I left his office to go home he smiled at me and said remember John it is a Brocklebank tradition that Chief R/O’s never do cargo tallying work under any circumstance. I smiled back and with a very light heart, left to go back to the ship to collect my gear and go on leave. As it turned out during the rest of my employment with Brocklebank’s neither I nor any of my juniors were requested to tally cargo.

Ron Stringer
17th October 2005, 00:18
As a Marconi R/O earning the BOT mimimum rate of pay for R/Os I was only too pleased to get any opportunity to earn some extra money by tallying cargo. If I wasn't needed to carry out repairs in port, I was ever willing to turn to for tallying duties - as long as I was being paid extra.

On the Italian coast I could never have afforded to go ashore without the extra cash. A plus was that I learned how to count in Italian, and the names of several colours in Italian, because we had a part cargo of 40lbs brass (and other metal compound) ingots - thousands of the things. Each of the batches had different colour combination paint-dab markings and all had to be checked off. 150 green/red/black, 475 blue/blue/orange and so on.

I wold not have done the work as part of my normal pay. During the 1990s Marconis rented out R/Os to an Italian company where the R/Os duties included driving on-board cranes and the tractors that towed the RO-RO trailers on and off the vessels. Times change.

Ron Stringer