some subterranean building and wondering if Hitler felt the same way in
the final days of the Third Reich. Bunkering on a ship means taking on
fuel. How much fuel? Well, its enough oil to coat San Francisco Bay
pretty well as the ship in the news recently did.
Today we were set to take 830 metric tons of intermediate fuel oil (IFO)..
That is enough fuel to carry us a most of the way around the world. We
fuel every time we are up here in Korea which adds special difficulties
since there are vast chasms of language and cultural divides.
The day began for me as it always does at 5 AM when I wake up and stare
at the ceiling for awhile. After prying myself from my comfortable bed,
I flip on my computer then go and brush my teeth. My computer has the
morning's email and then it's off to the deck for my daily round at 6 AM.
This morning the deck gang was out and about plugging the scuppers (deck
drains) so that if we have a leak onto the deck, we have some leeway to
get it mopped up before it flows to the ocean. During my round I found
one of the containments under the fuel manifold full of water, so I
drained it by opening the drain valve. Unfortunately paint chips and
rust had plugged the drain pipe so I had to run down to the engine room
and get a snake to get the gunk out. With that done, I headed to my
usual morning meeting with the captain on the bridge and have myself a
cup of tea.
This morning was unusual since a merchant ship opened fire on a boat in
the Suez Canal over in Egypt. This ship was actually a sister ship of my
former ship, the MV MERLIN. In the canal there are usually a bunch of
small boats trying to sell things to the merchant ships. Well this
particular ship is a lot like ours and when we carry military cargo, we
can't allow small boats too close, especially after what happened to the
USS COLE in 2000. In any case, a group of boats approached the ship.
The embarked military detachment had a native Arabic speaker tell them to
shove off. After they didn't heed that warning, they shot 2 flares at
the boats. At this point 3 of the 4 boats peeled off. Unfortunately the
fourth didn't, and there was a series of warning shots fired at the boat.
Now if I was a merchant heading to a ship and 2 flares followed by a
line of tracers from a 50 caliber machine gun went flying over my bow,
I'd be heading the other direction as fast as I could go. Well this guy
wasn't me and kept heading to the boat, at which point there is a bit of
discrepancy between the naval report which merely states that shots were
fired, and the Egyptian take where one person was killed and three
wounded. I just wonder if the "warning shots" were a bit too close to
the bow and accidentally hit the boat. It doesn't make much of a
difference to me, as they should have turned away with their friends. As
a side note, Capt Lou is good friends with the captain of that ship. I
am sure he will hear the real details sometime later. I am glad I'm not
in that part of the world at the moment. There are too many pirates and
terrorists out there.
After this tale was related to me, I went to breakfast. I ate quickly
because while Korean stores boats tend to show up randomly, the bunker
barges arrive like clockwork in the middle of breakfast at 7:45.
Sure enough the barge (a ship really, but American's usually call them
barges in any case as that is what is usually used in the US) was
alongside at 7:45 and we got its lines aboard and had the ship tied up
before 8 AM. After that we stopped. Since the military is involved,
there are a number of rules with tight tolerances when we fuel. We hire
an independent surveyor to measure the amount of fuel on the fuel barge
and on the ship before and after to make sure we get the full amount of
fuel we ordered. This process involves the chief engineer, 2nd engineer,
barge tankerman and the surveyor.
For my part, I just hang out on deck and keep a good look out for all the
things that can go wrong. I also supervise the attaching of the hose
which they lift up with their crane, then we further support with our
crane. The hose is 8 inches in diameter and beneath it is a small
fitting that bleeds a small amount of fuel into this gallon-sized plastic
bag to give a representative sampling of the fuel for later analysis if
one is needed later.
At 9:20 they started pumping and at 9:25 I had my FIRST emergency
shutdown of the day. I knew it wasn't going to be a good day, as bad
things come in threes, and this day was to be no exception. The sample
bag had been placed on its fitting, the only trouble was that the valve
on the fitting was leaking and within 5 minutes the bag was about ready
to burst. I decided to head of disaster off at the pass and avoid an oil
filled "water balloon" blowing up in my face and ordered an emergency
stop. As I was doing this I radioed the engine control room and told
them what I had done. The chief engineer and first came up and after a
quick change out of fittings, we were back in business. We resumed
pumping a few minutes later. This time the fitting didn't leak and we
were able to bleed the proper amount of oil into the bag without any
One of my AB's is an old tankerman and he commented to me that there
seemed an awful lot of pressure in that hose. I could see the barges
gauges but could not read them from the deck. The needles were at the 12
o'clock position. After a bit of pumping, the chief calculated that they
were pumping at a rate of 400 tons/hour which was too much since they
were supposed to be only pumping at 300 tons/hour. About the same time
the chief made this determination, I hear a cry from the top of #10
hatch. I pop my head up like a meerkat and see my Filipino ordinary
Arnold, who is in his 50's, running, waving his arms, and yelling "leak,
leak!" I leap up the deck, and to be honest I don't remember using the
ladder, but I must have, and started running over the hatch, all the time
yelling into my radio, and at the hose station to shut down. I race up
the port side of the deck after Arnold. I was looking around but didn't
see any oil, which could be good or bad. I race past the hatches one by
one, and then by the vents for the tanks being fuels, all devoid of oil.
Finally, after sprinting 600 feet up the deck, I get to the forward
fueling stations, pipes that had been out of commission and unused for
years. There, I found the leak.
Cleaning up oil is a lot like making cookies…
IFO is what they consider heavy fuel. It is black as midnight and has the
consistency of molasses. Ordinary to pump it you need to heat it up to
about 120 degrees. Fortunately for us the temperature in Korea today was
only about 50 degrees, so it became viscous very quickly on the deck and
didn't flow very far. This is a good thing because unlike an lighter oil
like diesel oil, it wasn't going very far in these temperatures.
The pool of oil was about five to six feet in diameter and was contained
fairly well by the ship's structure. It had just begun to flow outside
the girder rising from the deck and my heart stopped racing as fast when
I realized that while it was a mess, it was a small mess, and still 100%
on the ship. A few quick radio calls and my gang was humping oil
absorbent pads and a form of sawdust used in spills. Also en-route were
shovels and brooms and a big trashcan on wheels for debris.
As soon as I got some supplies, Arnold and I started the cleanup. WE
placed a few pads, which are more expensive then the sawdust, then I
ripped open the first bag and dumped it over a majority of the puddle.
If you have ever tried mixing molasses in a mixing bowl, you will see
that due to its incredible surface tension, the liquid doesn't mix well
with the solids. Not to be deterred, I took the shovel and started
mixing the oil and sawdust until it resembled either cookie dough, or as
one of my AB's said "wow, this looks a lot like cow patties." Having
grown up in a cow town, it didn't quite look like a cow patty, but
certainly looked a lot like horse manure.
Once the oil was well mixed with the sawdust by shovels and brooms, we
scooped it up with shovels and dustpans and dumped it into our handy
garbage pail. Also into the pail went the pads we used.
Once our cleanup was well underway the engineers showed up and tended to
the pipe that had ruptured. To my surprise, I learned that all four
fueling stations are common, meaning that there are no valves between
them. This is not a good thing. When the barge had boosted the pressure
and flow rate to above the requested amount, the pressure rose in the
pipe up forward and it had basically rusted away between the deck and
nearest flange on the upper piping. Two holes about half the width of a
pencil had appeared and sprayed the oil. If Arnold hadn't been walking
by going to coffee, we might have had a much larger mess to clean. Also,
if that girder hadn't been there to deflect the oil, I think we would
have squirted a bit over the side which would have been really bad. As
it was, the holes were small and the spill was contained and relatively
easy to clean up.
There was little that could be done immediately for the pipe, so a few
bits of rubber were clamped to the pipe with a hose clamp. Unfortunately
the chief jumped the gun a bit and started pumping fuel before the clamp
was fully secured, so as the air was rushing out of the holes, I ordered
my third emergency stop of the day. Once the clamp was properly adjusted
and secured, I stationed a cleaning crew to wipe up the rest of the oil
from the deck and bulkheads as well as watch for further leakage.
The chief slowed the loading rate down to 200 tons/hour. I made a point
of walking around the deck to check the other two fueling stations as
well as all the vents for the tanks being filled. Fortunately none of
them were giving us any problems. As I got to the fueling station in
use, I noticed the chief was raising a ruckus. Apparently as soon as he
left, the barge guys were boosting the fueling rate again. By this time
I had figured out the piping and valve arrangement and started pointing
out to the engine guy at the manifold where the gauges were and how the
guy was using a particular valve to boost the pressure. The guy on the
barge saw me pointing and got upset because he knew the gig was up and
that while I was on the deck right there, he wouldn't be able to mess
with the load rate again.
Fueling stopped when the barge ran out of IFO to give us. Since we had
filled more tanks on the port side then the starboard, we had developed a
one-half degree port list. I ducked inside and moved a bunch of water
ballast to compensate and insure that the engineers could get a proper
measurement of the amount of fuel onboard. Right about then the 2nd
engineer was asking me for a trim calculation, without any real concept
of how I derived the number. Trim is a measure of the difference between
the forward draft and after draft. Draft the distance between the bottom
of the hull and the waterline. In general ships like to have drag, or
have a deeper draft at the stern. What the second didn't realize that I
need to know how much fuel was pumped into which tanks in order to
calculate the drafts and then get the trim. I told him to get me at
least a fairly accurate idea of how much fuel was in which tank, and then
I'd get him the numbers. A bit later he did just that, and I entered the
numbers into the computer and was able to get him his information.
Unfortunately even after all of my efforts and triple checking all the
tanks on both the barge and the ship, we ended up being 15 tons short.
Letter of protest were written, tempers flared, and the deck gang sat
around the sideport for about five hours doing absolutely nothing.
During this time when things were getting hammered out in the engine
room, I was sitting by the crane on the deck talking with the Bosun. I
heard this distinctive noise, like an electrical arc makes as it passes
through the air. I peek between the crane and see the captain of the
fuel ship starting to weld on his bridge. I had visions of vapor filled
tankers next to my ship exploding, taking me and my vessel with it. I
didn't think it was going to be a fun experience, and since I don't even
know one word in Korean, and the captain probably didn't know many words
in English, I had to let my tone do the talking "HEY!" I yelled, with my
most authoritative voice, "no welding! No." I feel that if there is a
large language barrier, its best to keep even broken English simple. The
guy looked at me like I had two heads and put the welding rod down. When
I had disappeared for a minute or two, he thought I was gone and resumed
his task. Fortunately I had left the bosun there, and he started yelling
at him as well. I also called the engine department to have the fuel guy
call the ship's captain and tell him to stop welding. Unfortunately the
fuel guy didn't help, but by annoying the heck out of the captain, we
were able to convince him to stop lighting a 3000 degree electric arc on
a ship full of fuel vapors which were still wafting over the deck. I
seriously wonder how these people don't end up on the Darwin Awards list.
After another hour or two delays, we finally shoved the fuel ship off at
5:30 and I was finally able to enjoy dinner. It was a long day, full of
the wrong kind of excitement and near misses, but one for the record book