Monday, 20 December 1993

Work experience

08.11.1993 -20.12.1993
m/s Norden

After some rest at home I got offered a job on m/s Norden as 1st Officer, again in charge of the Medical chest. She was owned by Rederi Engship Ltd. (now ceased operation as they were bought up by Bore Line). Norden was a 120m long bulk carrier built in the early 70's and had originally been built and owned by Finnlines. At one time when the going was bad for all shipping Companies, Engship was buying up all surplus tonnage, somehow they managed to get charter for all of them and made a bundle.

Norden could load about 10000 DWT and she was on a regular charter from Finland to Norway. We were freighting some sulphur mixed rawmaterial, the name escapes my memory, from Yxpila to Sarpsborg. The sulphur was literally melting the ship structure, everything was sticky from it, plus we had the rotten egg smell always with us. Once we had discharged in Norway we usually went back empty but once we loaded coal from Gdansk to Rauma.

The crew was nice although I can't recall the Captain getting high points on diplomacy and objectiveness. The Chief Officer was a nice man but unfortunately an alcoholic and he had a bad relapse. For a week I watched him stumbling on duty with rubber knees and saying "I can't understand it, I'm not sobering up". Eventually he got hold of himself and I gave him some Esucos pills to master the hangover.

In Gdansk I remember people were going out en masse to buy cheap vodka to sell in Finland. This was a pastime for every sailor visiting Scandinavia, you could buy in Central Europe or in the ex Soviet satellite states a liter of vodka for a few dollars and sell it for 20, the return was better than on the stock market.

It was many times a cat and dog game between the crew and the Customs to hide the undeclared stuff and they would come onboard trying to find it. Sometime in other ships crew would make an easy find and get the OS or Apprentice take the fine and the Customs gang would walk away happy thinking they'd nailed us. Once out of sight the big stash was broken open and big bucks were made. I've read in newspapers some stories of how the whole ship crew was involved in a big operation where also the shipchandler was in cahoots. The Custom Office was smart, they gathered evidence for a year and then gave the death knell.

Eventually this smuggling was eradicated by changing the rules. If you got caught the fine did not come to you personally, it came to the Owner. One can only imagine if an Owner would like the crew use his ship for smuggling purposes, let alone pay the fines of his employees. Overnight memo's came onboard in all messrooms warning crew that whomever was caught would be sacked. Nobody wanted to loose his job so the smuggling stopped almost then and there. Also the European Union with prices coming down as per the directives it also was not anymore that profitable when you could get almost same priced booze at the bottle shop or just jump in a ferry on a virtually free ticket and buy your Euro ration that is so big that you need a truck to haul it.

I'm straying here now and to return to the tale: the Repairman and Motorman had decided to get their stuff ashore and so they went and bought a icehockey gear bag full of booze. Little did they know that the port did not allow alcohol to be taken onboard ships so the guard at the gate stopped them and would not let them in. The guys thought that they'll hide the bag and come back after dark as the port area was poorly lit and had big holes in their fences. Around 11pm they came back from their trip swearing and cursing the gate guard, somebody had beat them to the goal and the bag had disappeared from it's hidey hole. It was a bitter evening for the engine crew. Other crew had used the shipchandler's truck to take in their stuff so they made it through the gate....



»»  read more