Death is always with us

Long time back, when still a young man, with thoughts only of beer, work, and more beer, during my time in the Merchant Navy, I did two stints on two oil tankers. One of those trips involved a visit to the arsehole of the world, otherwise known as the Persian Gulf to load crude from a dump named Bandar Mashur, in what used to be called Persia, now of course the playground of all things stupid and Islamic, Iran.

In the afternoon and evening before our morning arrival in the harbour roadstead, we had sailed through a blinding sandstorm, with visibility down to about thirty yards from the bridge, so naturally we slowed down, and kept watch on our progress by radar. During the storm we viewed and navigated past maybe two dozen other tankers and large cargo vessels, and as we successfully arrived in the port area, the captain and deck officers were congratulating themselves on completion of a difficult passage.

The American pilot boarded for the short voyage to the jetty and oil terminal, and as he walked alongside the deck cadet who was escorting him to the bridge, casually asked, “Much of a sandstorm last night?”

The cadet replied, “Yes, it lasted for about ten hours, but we slowed down, kept a double watch all night by radar, and we came clear round about four this morning.”

The pilot smiled, and when greeting the Captain and First Mate, asked exactly the same question about the storm, and received the same answer as from the cadet. “You maybe wanna’ stroll up to the focsle’head and check your anchor, Captain,” was the cryptic statement from the professional pilot, but would say nothing further until the deck cadet returned from his two-hundred yard walk forward and back with the news that the topworks, mast and sail of a Dhow were wrapped around the bow and anchor of our ship; and we had run over this small wooden vessel during our sandstorm passage, with the loss of the entire crew of seven men.

Because the Dhow had carried no metal in her rigging, and because she did not have a radar-reflector fitted on her mast, we had not even noticed her presence. Because of the bulk, weight and power of our tanker, we hadn’t even felt a bump as we rolled this tiny vessel under, and killed all her crew.

The Dhow was identified, the crew families and owners were compensated by our Company Insurers without even the need for any court proceedings, and once loading had finished, we left for the long run to Europe. For the Dhow crew members and their families, it was a tragedy; for us, as Officers and crew of a British Tanker, because we knew none personally, it was a tragedy, but less personal than for the dhow crew; but still a tragedy, writ small.

That happening was a tragedy, this is not!

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