My last Ship

19th January 2011, 17:37
.. My last ship was a pretty scrappy old tanker of 150.000 Tons. The ship’s name was “ALMIZAR”. The owner, “V- Ships” from Mont Carlo Shipping Managers. However, the ship’s papers registry was: “Almizar Company” – Monrovia, Liberia! Needless to say that such “company” didn’t exist! That was my only experience aboard a so called “flag of convenience” ship. And what an experience! I’ve putted on board at Marseilles. The day I arrived there, a taxi-cab took me to the port where a small boat was waiting to pick me up and to take me to the ship. The “ALMIZAR” was at anchor off the coast about five miles way. That all happened in January 1980, a particular cold and stormy month of January! In fact there was bad weather with strong “Mistral” wind and rough sea. Arriving close to the ship was I astonished! Some one dropped a jacob ladder from up the main deck and a thin rope to tie my luggage up. The ship was only on ballast waiting to enter next two or three days to dry-dock. As an experienced pilot can you imagine how high one must climb a jacob ladder up to the deck of a 150.000 tons tanker on ballast? I would imagine some 3O meters high at least. Am I wrong? T o make things worse I had no other choice but to jump to the ladder grasping it as firmly as I could with the hands. At that point was I thoroughly soaked with freezing sea water! And to my despair the little boat left immediately! Fortunately I managed to climb the blooming ladder and at the end I arrived on deck. There I met three starving looking small yet nice Filipinos that helped me with the luggage and showed me the way. I first was introduced to the Master who was German. The crew was as follows: Master and Chief Mate, Germans, 2nd Mate (I) Portuguese, third Mate, who arrive later, also Portuguese. Chief Engineer and 2nd Engineer Germans, 3rd Engineer, Filipino. A Radio Officer, British. Then an Electrician who was Czech, and Chief Steward, Cook and more eight ratings, including a Boatswain, all Filipinos. Those were to work either on deck or in the engine –room! They hardly could speak any English. Three days later we entered the dry-dock to general overall and repairs and I had the chance of having a better acquaintance with the crew. That day started my six months worse experience on my life!

The first day in dry-dock I was called before the Chief Mate. Then he told me: “As a second officer you are in charge of safety aboard, so you must check all the safety equipment, lifeboats and rafts, fire extinguishers … By the way, take a Filipino with you now and start painting the lifeboats, here you have some paint and brushes...”
I didn’t expect such an appalling order! After a moment of silence I said: “It seems that there is some misunderstanding sir! I’m an officer aboard this ship, not a rating and I’m not supposed to perform such a job. Painting aboard is not a task for an officer and on the other hand I’ve got no experience as a painter.” The chief mate looked at me in a furious mood and said: “Come with me!” Then he took me before the Master and said: “Captain here I am with mister second mate who refuses to accomplish my orders. I told him to paint the life-boats and he refuses! He says that it’s not his job!” I interrupted the conversation and said firmly: “Captain there’s no problem at all! We are ashore in Marseilles and we can pick up the phone, call the Company Managers in Mont Carlo and tell them I’m just leaving the ship and I do not accept any job which is clearly out of the normal duties of a deck officer. Sorry, that’s my last word. Good bye!” That was funny mate! They looked astonished at each other and then the captain said: “O.K mister mate, but I suppose you don’t object to supervise while the Filipino paints the lifeboats…” “That I wouldn’t mind” I said. Later, the Czech electrician who had lived for many years in Brazil, told me in plain Portuguese with funny Brazilian accent: “You did it well pal! You know, it’s not easy to work under German bosses! Always remember that: it’s not easy to work with Germans. But I’ll tell you the secret: never, but never, loose your temper! Just make your point in a clear, firm and strong way! You did it well pal! ” And that was the beginning of a terrible period of daily struggle against the Germans who tried in all the ways to put me working 24 hours a day if it weren’t for my firm refusal to do so. Furthermore they would always draw my attention to the fact that my contract was a “lump sum” contract i.e. one had no right of being paid for overtime work.
The Filipinos were real slaves and they literally did every thing on board, lookouts during night watches ( during day light watches the officer was left alone at the bridge), working in the engine room, painting, cleaning tanks and obviously handling ropes at the ship maneuvers on arrival or departure from the harbor. At the very beginning that was terrible for me. I couldn’t manage to perform a beautiful, net arrival or departure maneuver ahead in the forecastle as I used to do aboard Portuguese ships. There was a problem of communication, they hardly could speak or understand any English and on the other hand they were weakly built with little strength and very clumsy seamen. My first maneuvers on arrival at Marseilles was a disaster! The German chief mate came to the forecastle and with contempt asked me: “What kind of bloody job is this? Mister mate?”
As a matter of fact I was feeling very ashamed. All the ropes in the forecastle were in a terrible mess and I had to call the three Filipinos again to put every thing in good order.
Later, after more two or three harbor maneuvers I managed to create my own efficient style. That was accomplished through gesture language pointing at the right rope and helping them with it around the bollards.

Obviously this would be a very long and boring story should I keep writing about all the troubles one can get aboard a vessel with a very poor technical crew. All I wish to show is how dangerous may a ship become with poor trained crew on board. In order to keep a general idea of this experience I would like to refer to the following points:
As far as deck- officers and deck ratings are concerned they all lack a minimum knowledge of the job. Should an emergency situation arise then it would be very difficult to handle with it. Actually I was very surprised to discover that the German Officers had no knowledge about some modern Astronomic and Electronic Navigation Techniques. I recall one day we were sailing in Guinea Gulf, destination Cabinda. At that particular day the sun meridian passage was close to our Zenith. Either the Master or the Chief Mate told me: “that’s not possible to get the “noon” sun position today!”
“Well” , I said, “ we’ll take circum zenith circles and plot a position.” . As soon as I plotted the position the captain, looking amazed, only said: “ Oopps!!! “ Other day, arriving at Houston, we were enforced by the Coast Guard to have an Electronic High Accuracy Navigation Device aboard. It was possible a choice among “Omega Navigation”, “ Satellite Transit Navigation” or “ Loran C” Navigation”. The Master choose the cheaper ”Loran C” but, no one on board could work with it! I said him: “ Now we need some “Loran Charts” otherwise it isn’t possible to plot the position.”.
“Are you sure? Don’t you manage it without the charts?” Hilarious, isn’t it?
And to t put an end to this already long story allow me just to report the funny adventure while departing from Genoa .
We had left the quay behind and I was already alone, as officer of the watch, at the bridge. Suddenly I noticed the ships’ bow turning to starboard. It was about eleven o’ clock in the morning, the weather was fine, and the ship was sailing trough a lot of other smaller vessels on the Genoa Bay. I promptly disconnected the auto-pilot and tried to come back to course with the helm wheel but it was hardly jammed to starboard! Then I had no other choice but to stop the engine with the telegraph. I rang up the engine room to explain the situation. Then I went up in the “monkey island” (upper deck above bridge) and lifted two black balls up in the mast in order to give the sign of “ ship not under command” . I finally rang up the captain, who was having lunch with other officers, and told him what was going on and what I had already done. When he arrived at the bridge he just picked up the phone to the engine room and started yelling at the engine officer something in German I couldn’t understand. Then he came suddenly to the ship’s whistle and rang seven short blasts followed by one long blast – the signal to abandon ship! Unbelievable! I was astonished but more I was when I realised that nobody paid any attention to the signal and nobody come to the bridge! I said: “Captain please relaxes! The ship is almost stopped, there’s no danger and what we have to do now is to drop the anchor as soon as possible, and find out what happened to the helm’s machine. Stay here please and I’ll call the Boatswain and the seamen. So at last, we managed to drop anchor and after nearly two hours later the helm was properly fixed. That was a happy end!
Nearly six months after being aboard such a strange vessel I finally left the ship in Philadelphia and came back to Portugal and resumed my duties in a Portuguese Airlines Company as a Flight Engineer. It wasn’t easy at all! The Captain refused me to take the leave. I had to send a telegram to the Managers in Mont Carlo asking permission to leave. And fortunately they agreed. Under the circumstances, at the end, V. Ships proved to be a good Company. They were always very kind to me and I had always my pay on time. No complaints.

20th January 2011, 00:24
A warm welcome aboard from the Philippines. Please enjoy all this great site has to offer

20th January 2011, 02:16
Welcome onboard to SN and enjoy the voyage

Reginald Perry DeCamp
20th January 2011, 04:47
Welcome aboard,this SN member respect your rank and like your introduction
being the good writer you are i will be reading all of your posts.
Regards, Reggie

20th January 2011, 05:02
Shipmate 4147,

Thanks for posting such an interesting account of your time on board your last ship.
I have moved your post into this location since you already have a Hello thread running. (==D)

20th January 2011, 07:07
Like you, I joined my first FOC 1980. V ships must have been really bad or perhaps you were unlucky. I sailed with the same nationalities and all had good english and were proffessional. The Fillipinos especially, very friendly and helpful.

In dry dock it is usual to do the unusual, as Second mate I have painted lifeboats and overhauled tank cleaning machines, in fact done a lot that was not my normal duties. I consider it is my duty to help reduce costs and assist when I have spare time. However I watch my hours. A lot of C/Os and Masters sem to think that chart correcting can be done at night. This is so, sometimes it is better that way. However do the same people that want me to work at night also do overtime, No. So I don't. Correct in the day or take time off in lieu is my way, it upsets some so then I just say to them Ok, I'll do the charts, you do the publications at night. They soon shut up.

20th January 2011, 19:16
Thanks so much to every body! Didn’t expect so many answers !
Gulpers: thank you for helping! (the post in the right place !)
Billy boy and Gdynia: Thank you!
Reginald: Thank you too for encouraging to write again. I’ll do it Sir!
Vasco: This information was missing: Aboard the”ALMIZAR” there were no “overtime” hours. Actually we were paid only a “lump sum”. No “overtime” for any one! That was obviously a good reason to refuse to accomplish work out of my normal duties.... You see?