A ‘Superintendent’ is a manager of a ship is based in the office. Generally, he takes care of 4 – 5 ships and sees that they are well provided with the spares, stores and other support that the ships require. Though it sounds simple, it is incredibly complicated as the guy is dealing with an array of different nationalities on board and the ship keeps moving from one place to another. Also, the place where the supply would take place has its own rules and regulations.
I was just a few months into the job and got a call around 2 am – the most dangerous calls come at a time when you are in deep sleep!! The voice on the other end said ‘Sir, Captain of xyz speaking. We’ve had a fire on board!’ I asked to repeat it twice before it registered. ‘Is anyone injured?’, was my first question. ‘No’. Is the ship safe – any life-threatening situation? ‘No’. I asked him to send me an email and to call me in the office after an hour. I drove down to the office.
The ship was a Refrigerated Cargo Ship and she was carrying around 3000 tonnes of fresh fruit to Saudi Arabia and was scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal. It is important for these types of ships to reach the destination port on time and discharge the cargo as many supermarket chains and resellers are waiting for the fruits and also it is perishable – the more time on the ship, the more the risk of the fruits going bad.
In the office, I got a chance to talk to the Captain and Chief Engineer of the ship and it seemed the Turbocharger of the engine had exploded, spewing oil into the engine room. There was a fire, but it was extinguished quickly and there was no injury or loss of life. The engineers were working and expected to get the ship moving again in a few hours’ time.
From the office, I called my two immediate seniors – the Technical Manager and the Managing Director and told them of the incident and appraised them of the situation. Being new to the job, I had no clue how to proceed and asked each of them for some help – to my utter bewilderment, both of them decline, saying ‘You are the man on the job. Go ahead, check your options and do whatever you think is right and I will back you!’
There were two things that I needed to do immediately:
- Figure out what spares the ship needed.
- Figure out a port where these spares and also technicians could be sent.
I asked around but could not get a new or a reconditioned Turbocharger, so explored the options to repair the present one.
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The ship’s engineers did a fabulous job of taking off the damaged turbocharger and packing it for transport. Over the next few days, we decided that since the ship was calling Port Suez, I’ll offload the Turbocharger there, send it to a service station in Dubai and then get it back to the Suez Canal to be put on board the ship on its way back from Jeddah. Now here is where the ‘making allowance for the nationalities’ bit comes in.
Trust blindly and you shall be let down!
I called up an agent in Port Suez and he promised me that he would get the turbocharger on a flight to Dubai on the same day the ship reached there. ‘Boss, just don’t worry, I’m already booking the cargo space!’ The man sounded so sincere, I was totally taken in.
The ship reached the Suez Canal and I had kept everything ready to get the turbocharger off the ship – everything went well. Got it off the ship and loaded it onto a truck to deliver it to the airport at Cairo.
One of my colleagues flew to Dubai to oversee arrangements on that end.
The Starting of a disaster
No news from the Egyptian on that day. None on the next. Phone calls weren’t being answered. My colleague called me from Dubai and told me that it had not yet reached Dubai. 2 days were gone. Eventually, the Egyptian answered the phone and said that he had not been able to get space on the cargo aircraft, so he would have it sent in a roundabout way which was more expensive and would take two days! The flight from Cairo to Dubai should not take more than a couple of hours.
Eventually, the part reached Dubai, got repaired and was flown back to the Suez Canal where the ship was waiting. What I thought could be done without any delay to the ship, trusting the guy at the Suez Canal, ended up with a 4-day delay.
So, what about ‘Strategic Stupidity’? That in the next one.
Take care and be safe.
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