Thursday, August 23, 2007

Part VI: Aftermath

(Two pictures from the "Punda," a downtown area of Willemstad, Curacao. The first is the waterfront esplanade with the colorful buildings and the second is the main street. The city is divided by the "river" which leads to the bay and refineries. The other side of the "river" is called the Outrabunda and is populated by more Antillians than tourists while the Punda is the main more or less upscale shopping area. Twenty years later, we found that this was to change drastically with the outrabunda becoming the main tourist center and the Punda falling in a bit of decay.)

When deVries left the ship after his inspection, I was despondent. I had been told that a charter had been negotiated for me by Capt. Vieweger and that Shell and was waiting for the ship to be cleared the inspectors. In short, everything depended on the outcome of deVries' inspection.

The day slipping away. Betty was already in Chicago on her way and I didn't want to stand around and talk with Captain Zack (more on him in a later blog) so I left the ship ostensibly to do some shopping but in reality to go to deVries' office in the Government Building and ask for a private audience with him during which I would try to convince him that we were good people who had been wronged. Arriving at his reception area, I could see him in a glass-enclosed office a couple of rooms away. His secretary, a very friendly older Antillian woman, took my request to him and then returned to tell me he could not see me. What was I to do? It was one of those moments we have in our lives when all the alternatives seem hopeless. I couldn't leave; I couldn't stay. But I left the office and started down the hall, head down, defeated. I guess I looked pretty sad as I left the office because deVrties' secretary ran after me and stopped me. She said that Mr. DeVries gets to his office at 7 O’clock each morning and if I were to come down the hall and knock on his office door, which she pointed out to me, he would probably answer it and then it would be up to me. I thanked her profusely but wondered if any good could come out of such a bold strategy.

Later that evening, I went to a wonderful restaurant perched high about and overlooking Willemstad and the port. With a ice cold drink in my hand, I walked out on a perfectly safe catwalk to a viewing pod looking straight down to the reefs 200-feet below. I took one look down and I think I remember wondering if I could be suicidal and then decided not to test myself. Rather hastily I retreated to the safe environs inside the restaurant.

Betty arrived on the 11 p.m. flight and we both decided to confront deVries early the next morning. If we slept, it was fitfully.

Part VII: We confront Joop deVries in his office and later receive our Lloyd's inspection.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Part V: The MacVie Story

Our first Inspection...

Let me be clear about the certificates which verified to us that the MacVie was in excellent shape. First, she had undergone a Lloyds Registry of Ships Special Survey which indicated that there were two minor deficiencies. A Lloyds’ Special Survey is an extensive inspection conducted once every four years and covers virtually everything on the ship including safety equipment, machinery, hull condition, and piping (of which there are hundreds of feet on an oil tanker). The survey had been completed three months earlier when the ship was in Trinidad and was signed by Mr. Lumsden, the Lloyds’ inspector there.

Second, we had a local Ship Surveyor conduct a private inspection which certified that everything was in fine working order. In short, when I was informed that the Antillian Ship Inspector stationed in Curacao would be inspecting the ship before authorizing it to operate out of Antillian waters, I was not concerned. I had owned the MacVie for a mere eight days, seven of which were spent away from the vessel, so I had little opportunity to check things out for myself. Instead I relied on Captain Zack to ready the ship for the inspection.

Joop (pronounced as in “hope”) deVries was the Antillian Ship Inspector and as such had ultimate authority over Antillian waters. On Monday afternoon, in the small lounge that the dockyard company provided each afternoon for the convenience of ship owners or their representatives, inspectors, and dockyard executives, I had been introduced to deVries and found him pleasant but formal. I slept well.
(A crewman opens a venting valve for the inspector)

The next morning, deVries arrived with his aide and quickly began his inspection. Pulling out a small copper alloy non-sparking hammer--one does not beat in a steel deck of an oil tanker with a steel hammer lest one wants to be blown up—with one end of the hammer head pointed like an awl, on his first try, he sank the awl completely through the nicely painted deck plating. And so it went: he tore long slits in the venting system, the pipes that vent gasoline fumes high up the mast away from the ship, he broke off rusted pieces of equipment, pieces that had been skillfully masked and painted as though new. Within minutes, I knew we had a serious problem and that we had been tricked by old Capt. Vieweger.
(Captain Zack stripping the lifeboats for inspection)

After about an hour or two (time was all but lost in my mental fog) deVries left saying that he would send me his written report in a day or two but meantime he would have to issue a “No Sail” decree on the ship. Compounding my problem was the fact that on Thursday, deVries was to meet with our potential charterer, Shell Oil Company, to give them his report on the condition of the vessel.

Immediately after deVries left, I telephoned Betty in Hancock and told her to catch the very next flights to Curacao. We had a serious problem with an inspection and I needed her as soon as possible.

Later that afternoon, I learned that the local Lloyds’ inspector had got wind of deVries findings and decided to make an inspection of his own the next day. Unfortunately, I was to learn, deVries and the Lloyds inspector Johan Verloop had a long history of animosity over other ships. I wondered if deVries was engaging in a little pay back and that perhaps the MacVie was his down payment. That night, with the noise of clanking and clunking and whistles and bells from the midnight shift of the dockyard wafting in my open portlight, I slept fitfully.

Next: Part VI: Another Day, Another Inspection.