In many parts of the world, the exchange of small gifts
is considered necessary before conducting business, or formalities of entering a vessel into port. Port officials come aboard
at anchor, or at the dock, and head for the captain's office. They may be few or many in number, depending on the port and
the country. The officials complete the entry with customs, to make sure duty is paid on the cargo being landed. Immigration
officials need copies of the crew list, and passengers' passports in order to issue shore passes, or to give permission for
the crew and passengers to go ashore. Nobody can leave the ship until this is done. Also a quarantine officer may board in
some places, to check the International Vaccination Certificates (shot cards) of the crew, and to make sure you will not infect
the local population with communicable diseases. There may be also officials to inspect the ship to make sure it complies
with international regulations and local port regulations pertaining to safety and pollution. In some countries there may
be as many as a dozen officials boarding the ship after it docks. The smaller and more backward countries tend to have more
officials than the larger industrialized nations. The captain is ready for this. Usually you have all the requested documents
and forms prepared. When I started sailing the ships carried a purser to do this work, but they were eliminated when I was
a junior officer, long before I was a captain. A captain will have some coffee, soft drinks, and if afternoon some alcoholic
spirits are in order unless it is a Moslem country. It is good to have the steward or a waiter handy to assist with refreshments
in order to speed the process. The most important thing, however, is to have a gratuity for every boarding officer. On American
flag ships, it is a carton of Marlboro cigarettes. On European ships it can be a bottles of whiskey or several cartons of
Marlboro's. I saw a Japanese ship that gave out tuna fillets.
Things became difficult when we had Jimmy Carter as president. When he signed the "Foreign Corrupt Practices
Act" into law, we imposed our U.S. ideals on the international business community. It caused us a lot of trouble. No
longer could you hand out fifty cartons of Marlboro's to find docking space in a crowded port, or transit the Suez Canal without
delay. We had to be prepared to spend more time at anchor, sometimes weeks, at a great loss of revenue for the company and
its shipping customers. Over the years we have learned to live with it, and somehow the proper palms get the needed grease,
although at a different level than before. But until the late '70's it was not unusual to get small gifts in almost every
port. I have a collection bric-a-brac from all around the world.
Today we still can hand out cigarettes one carton at a time, and in some places the tradition survives. On one of
my last trips to sea we called at Durres, Albania, not long after they had gotten out from under a repressive Communist government.
The people were really friendly and anxious to talk to outsiders. It was something that had been forbidden there for over
50 years. The officials boarded and were very friendly. The nicest was the doctor, who was the Quarantine officer. When I
gave him the carton of cigarettes, he opened his doctors bag (they still make house calls there) he pulled out a live chicken
and gave it to me in return. I was really touched at his sincerity. I suppose it was, in turn, a gift from a patient he had
just seen. I really didn't know what to do with it, but since the Steward was there in my office taking care of refreshments,
I presented him with the chicken. I told the doctor that we had many chickens in our freezer, but he said, correctly, that
this one was more flavorful and nutritious.
had forgotten about the chicken until the next afternoon when I was going ashore. I saw a very mad chief cook walking on the
dock, with the chicken on a home made leash. He had to walk the chicken, he complained. It wasn't house-broken, and made a
bad mess in his galley. He, nor none of us really wanted to butcher the poor bird. Near the gangway was a poor woman who was
begging, and had a small girl with her. I told the cook to give her the chicken. She really seemed pleased. I had easily solved
another problem of my command.