ENGINEERS

Marine Engineers are usually overlooked when tales of the sea are told. However, when the chips are down, they can be as heroic as any deck officer or captain. marine engineers are licensed officers aboard ship. There is always an engineering officer on watch in the engine room, just as there is always a deck officer on watch on the bridge. There has always been an uneasy relationship between the "mates" as deck officers are called, and the engineers. The rivalry began just as soon as steam ships appeared on the oceans, and has continued for the past century and a half. The engineers must not only keep the main propulsion operating when at sea, they must maintain all of the auxiliary machinery as well. A ship is like a floating city, and must be self sufficient. Electricity must be generated around the clock. Water must be available, and sewage treatment and disposal must continue while in port or at sea. Cargo handling gear, derricks, winches, and cranes must be kept in good repair. All of these things come under the control of the Engineers. But, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, they always complain "I ain't got no respect". If you ever watched an episode of "Love Boat" you always saw the captain, doctor, and purser. In all of the years the program was aired, an engineer was never in sight. However, they make up about a third of a merchant ship's normal crew. They are the ones you call when your toilet doesn't work, or the light bulbs need changed, if your cabin is too hot or too cold. More importantly, they keep the propeller turning. Without propulsion, the ship is useless. Just as important is the rudder, and steering gear. No longer do ship's have auxiliary sail power, as they did in the early days of steam. Without the engineers, a ship is literally and figuratively dead in the water.

Engineers work in a noisy and dirty environment, and are always taking machinery apart and reassembling it. Some of them are Prima Donnas. They expect the deck officers to kowtow to them when they request assistance with the cargo handling gear, or more turns on the propeller. The deck officers are jealous of engineers, because they can easily use their skills ashore as mechanics, welders, and power plant engineers. Nobody needs a deck officer ashore. chief engineers have come to the top of their careers, they can never be promoted to captain.All of these considerations make the relationship between the ship's officers a bit uneasy. I have sailed with some great engineers and had a fine voyage, and at times I've sailed with some really bad ones, and had a miserable trip. If the captain and the chief engineer have a good working relationship, there are few problems that can't be overcome. When there is friction at the top, it causes trouble for the whole ship.

I can remember one "bad" trip not too long ago. The engineers that trip were not very conscientious. They were more concerned with getting ashore and drinking than working. I told them that the work has to be done before they can play. A captain is of the same rank as a chief engineer, but maintains overall command of the ship. He has to treat the chief as an equal, however, and handle him with kid gloves. This "Chief" was a relief, and did not have the ethic or experience to sail as a chief engineer. He wanted to sit in his office all day, and leave the daily operation of the ship to the First Assistant Engineer. This First, however, had exactly the same work ethic as the chief, and would rather party than work. I sometimes felt I was running a day care center rather than a ship. In Alexandria a bunker barge came alongside with fuel for the continuation of the voyage. The chief engineer was ashore at the Casino, and the first engineer wanted to join him rather than bunker. They both should have been aboard for bunkering. I had to threaten the first engineer with a logging if he did not stay and take the bunkers.

Near the end of that voyage we were supposed to clean #1 hold for bulk grain. You have to pass a stringent USDA (agricultural) inspection when loading foodstuffs directly into the hold. We were using a fire hose and HTH (a chlorine type disinfectant) to wash down the hold. Particular attention has to be paid to the many beams and flanges on the overheads and bulkheads. The "rose boxes", "scuppers" (drains) have to be kept clean and clear. When washing a hold you must have the engineers pumping the bilges constantly to remove the water as fast as it enters. These engineers did not have either the ability or the desire to pump the bilges. We started washing the hold, and quickly we had about a foot of water in the bottom of the hold. You can't clean a bath tub with water in the bottom, when it's not draining. Likewise, you can't clean a hold if there's water in the bottom. I complained to the chief engineer. He had the engine room "blow back" on the bilge line to #1 hold, thinking that it was obstructed with trash. Unfortunately, they used a pump that had been used for fuel oil transfer to "blow back', and thus sprayed fuel oil all over the freshly washed hold. The deck crew were getting really mad, because now they had an even more difficult cleaning job, which required lots of hand scrubbing and strong detergents to remove the bunker oil from the compartment. We had to be ready for inspection when we arrived in port in two days. There was still a foot of oily water in the hold, which they could not remove. I finally had to take the bull by the horns. To get the chief engineer out of his office and back to work I had to type up a letter to him, informing him that he seemed to be unable to pump #1 bilge, and that the pumping of bilges was a major concern for the ship's seaworthiness, and that I expected results within 24 hrs. or I would bring up the matter with the U.S. Coast Guard on our return to the United States. The letter did get the chief down to the bilge pump in short order, and within an hour they figured out how to pump the water from the hold. We kept cleaning all night, and did pass our USDA inspection on arrival. I was disappointed with myself, however. I had always enjoyed a warm relationship with engineers, and that trip it had soured. I am still of the opinion that the Mates and Engineers should work as a team, forget the jealousies, and work for the good of the ship.