After reading a blog I routinely follow I was reminded of a conversation I had on Christmas Day with the Captain of a Military Sealift Command ammo/stores/fuel supply vessel berthed in Singapore.
The blog which you can read at Hawespiper explained how after bunkering a Russian freighter in recognition of a quick and clean fuel transfer the engineer on the receiving vessel sent down three beers and a couple of cokes to the tankerman/blogger. Being a professional American Merchant Seaman he was obliged to deep six the frigid and rare bottled Russian brews he received in gratitude.
This vignette struck me as a poignant example of just what the Captain and I discussed on Christmas Day after I was invited to the crew Christmas party on the navy base. As the crew tossed horse shoes the Captain and I got to talking about the welfare of seafarers in today's merchant marine. We both agreed that professionalism and safety were highly valued and certainly bolstered by the constant and increasingly severe regulations that govern how much we sleep, drink and now eat at work.
There was plenty to eat and drink for the crew at the party. In addition to a pallet of buckets full of marinating chicken and ribs the crew had pitched in money for two trashcans full of beer and all the fixings for eggnog. Looking at the frosty beverages the Captain told me about an initiative at MSC to combine random breath alcohol or saliva testing with random urinalysis. This would mean that a tester could board the ship at any time, like after a Christmas Party ashore, in any port, to administer tests for illegal drugs and alcohol to the entire crew. The alcohol component is something that is normally reserved for post incident investigations.
This would in turn create an atmosphere on his ship akin to the oil terminals in Valdez Alaska where you don't go down the dock without blowing through a tube. While his ship is in part an oil tanker there was no transfer of oil going on at the dock during the party. Yet if the new rules went into affect the entire crew would be subject to breathalyzing after their holiday horseshoe tournament. A very discouraging trend for a crew that normally spends upwards of 8 months a year on their ship.
I'm sure as he threw those three brews overboard he was wondering how much one or two pops at work would really hurt. I wonder the same thing too. We don't drink on tankers or oil barges or Ro/Ros but escort tugs in Alaska still go aground.
If you don't drink than I suppose it's not an issue. And if you follow the rules as a merchant mariner working aboard U.S. flagged vessels should than you are aware of the very low BAC allowed by the USCG whenever you are on board a ship. I'm not going to argue against that. The rules are the rules and I would have tossed those beers over board too but I think it's worth taking a moment as the Captain of the MSC oiler and I did, to remember more is being taken away from mariner's than just our ability to go out and get a drink in port.
We are not air plane pilots. We do not go home at night but live and work on our vessels constantly with no more than a gym to blow the steam off. We already go without so many things that landwellers take for granted; regular sleep, companionship, our families. To make us feel on our vessels, in our homes, so regulated to the point where alcohol at a Christmas party might be too much of a risk next year than it becomes more than a lot of people would want to deal with to do my job. While there is no excuse for being intoxicated while on duty people, at least the people I work with, need the freedom to enjoy themselves when they get that rare chance to go ashore.
I've worked aboard ships that once flew Swedish and Norwegian flags. These ships all had bars once upon a time and it is still standard in most nations, and navies, to allow some amount of alcohol on board. In a way I'm jealous of that Russian engineer who is allowed to keep beer at work and give a couple to the tankerman who just fueled up his ship. Those little freedoms are what make us feel like normal humans and chipping away at them might end up seeming like a good idea for insurance companies but a bad idea for our mental well being. It's a delicate balance.