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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post A Tribute to My Mentor: Captain Phillips
Created by John Eipper on 09/15/20 3:33 AM

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A Tribute to My Mentor: Captain Phillips (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 09/15/20 3:33 am)

A few days ago I wrote about my mentor in Italy Father Farris, but I've been fortunate to meet many kind people who helped me a lot.

Now, as an old man, my greatest sorrow is not to have duly thanked all of them.

So now, prior to remembering my great American mentor, let me thank JE and all WAISers who read my posts, even if they don't agree with me, they have been kind. So thanks again to John, Alain, Ángel, Enrique, Luciano, Nigel, Roy, Tor...

The great person was the late Captain Phillips, President/CEO of Amoco International, on whose ships I sailed beginning in1968.  My wife joined me on several voyages.

In 1971 Captain Phillips invited us to visit the new Headquarters of the Company in Chicago. At noon when he knew that my wife liked Paul Anka, he invited us to lunch at the historic Palmer House where Paul Anka was singing and had him come to our table and sing "My Way" for Mariarosa.  She never was more delighted.

Perhaps I was a difficult captain, but Captain Phillips always supported me:

1) I refused to carry out a complete "gas free" of the vessel, as the Company did not arrange where to discharge the slop (contaminated water/residual oil).

2) I had high overtime for my crew, but it was only due to the fact that even in daylight in open seas, I never allowed the officer to remain alone on the bridge.

3) I anchored only in the safest anchorage, even if the place was rather far away from the port. Once the president visiting the vessel arrived after a rather rough trip on a boat.

4) I was the "black beast" for the Port Engineers.  They wanted the ship anchored close to the breakwater of the port for easy transfer and access to the engine for maintenance. Following the rules, I always said no to avoid the fate of the London Valour; see Wikipedia on "The Sinking of the London Valour." 

5) Once the President made a short trip on a ship and had an annoying experience. At dinner, a cockroach fell from the ceiling on his plate.  Disgusted, he went to the owner's cabin to wash himself and the sink fell off on his feet. He immediately cabled to have me join the ship and put it in order.

Of course, doing the contrary and writing some BS in the Ship's Log, and if Fortuna, the blind goddess, would have smiled on us, the company would have saved money.  But the "Safety First" painted on all ships would have been only a nice slogan and not of a way of life.

After moving to Chicago I was helped by many people, too many to mention here.

When finally I got a US "green card," Capt Phillips suggested that I should become an American citizen. Of course, it was a great honor for me and would have been a great convenience, including economically, but I refused in spite of the fact that I did (do) not like the present Italian republic--lay, democratic, and antifascist. How could a nationalist Bastian Contrario change nationality?

In Amoco, various naturalized employees were present but still maintaining their old passports. Unfortunately, I cannot feel loyal to two countries at the same time.

The outstanding support from the President came when in a stressful lunch with me and my direct superior, the president blocked the request of the latter to fire me.

My chief was very pissed off at me. First I was the only one not to donate to the PAC.  I stated that as a foreigner I could not be involved in a local political donations but for him, a bureaucrat coming from the shore services of the Coast Guard, it was an ugly stain on his department in spite of all his efforts (threats?) to convince me otherwise.

Then there was the case, which I already mentioned on WAIS, of an excellent woman colleague coming to work not dressing in the executive style but in nice floral dresses, which were not appropriate according to him.  Therefore I should have fired her but if I refused, as I ended up doing, he said he would fire both of us. Furthermore, he did not approve of my political views on Italy.

In 1985 my wife was sick and tired of the Chicago winters, so I accepted an offer from a Genoese Shipping Agency. My daughter has not yet forgiven me for the silly decision to leave the US.

If working in the US was almost paradise, working onshore in Italy was almost hell but that is another story.

Oh, by the way, after some years I heard that my "friend" was fired for misconduct.

JE comments:  The world needs more managers of Capt. Phillips's wisdom and integrity.  Standing by your people when they make the right decisions, especially when they're not the most expedient or profitable ones, is the mark of strong leadership.  Eugenio, I filed this post under "Education," as a true mentor is the best teacher of all.  I hope other WAISers will send reflections on the mentors who've touched their lives.

I asked Eugenio off-Forum to clarify the "gas free" process (item #1, above).  It's a complete cleansing of a tanker's storage tanks, which as one can imagine, is a massive and dirty job with huge environmental risks.  Eugenio sent a longish description of the "gas free," which is deserving of its own WAIS post (tomorrow).


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  • What is the "Gas Free" Process for Cleaning Oil Tankers? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/16/20 4:16 AM)
    John E asked about the "gas free" process for cleaning oil tankers.  It is the most important job carried out by the crew.

    After discharging the cargo, the ship is completely washed out.  But contrary to the practice until the early 1970s, no oil can be discharged at sea. All cleaning water sprayed into the tank from big pumps and rotating nozzles must be recovered in a special slop tank, where it can undergo decantation.  The clean water is then slowly discharged, with care taken not to discharge any oil. The sludge at the bottom of the tanks is then recovered by hand by the crew after going inside. Of course, prior to entering a cleaned tank, it has to be well ventilated, and then the atmosphere inside the tanks must be checked for the possible presence of gas with a special instrument handled by the Chief Officer (or Captain) who is also the first to enter. Generally, I wanted to go first unless my presence was required on the bridge. As you know if the crew is motivated, it works much better and the captain working first with the crew is the best way to motivate. Well, offering a beer or going to dinner with the crew also helps.


    Prior to any shipyard work in port, all the sludge and slop (remaining oil) must be discharged and the slop tank completely cleaned discharging ashore.


    On the occasion I mentioned in my post of September 15th, the new law had just been enacted.  Someone in the office (at the mid-levels)  was betting that I did not know about the new stricter law, as earlier it had been possible to discharge oil in the open seas provided that the ship was at least 50 nautical miles away from land and it could be shown that repairs were being performed on the ship.  Dumping at sea would save a lot of money.  A VLCC tanker could previously discharge up to 1000 tons of oil at sea, which it is frightful.


    A port captain flew from Chicago to Tenerife to try to convince me that if I doctored the Ship's Log in a certain way I could have discharged oil and contaminated water.  Of course, he refused to give me a written order or a written specification on how to write the false log entry.  I did not carry out these illegal instructions.  This could have angered some in the company, but I had the law behind me.


    I assume that I was the only captain who refused such a request, but I was betting on the support of Captain Phillips.


    I hope to have explained this complex process. It is a specific job that can be difficult to explain to laypersons without tanker experience.


    JE comments: Read WAIS every day, and you'll never fail to learn something! Imagine how many millions of gallons of gunky crude were intentionally dumped in the oceans in the old days.  Horrifying. Eugenio, you may have landed yourself in trouble with some of your unscrupulous supervisors, but Mother Earth and Father Neptune thank you.

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    • Environmental Regulations for Oil Tankers in the 1970s (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/18/20 3:58 AM)
      As a followup to my post on the "gas free" process for cleaning oil tankers (September 16th), WAISers may be interested in the following:

      The 1970s were a revolutionary decade for the oil transportation industry, when the MARPOL 73/78 (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) finally declared that the pollution of the seas by oil, refuse, black waters, etc. was forbidden.


      But other important innovations came out during the decade:


      1) Crude Oil Washing. The term itself sounds astonishing. While two pumps discharge ashore, a third one pumps the crude oil through jet rotating nozzles into the tanks being discharged. The spreading oil significantly cleans the bulkheads, highly reducing the amount of sludge and the oil remaining on board.


      2) Inert Gas System. This system is deployed to prevent an explosion in the cargo tanks of a ship. In this integrated system, while pumping out the inflammable liquid cargo, an inert gas, generally flue gas from the ship's boilers, is pumped in. Also, a loaded ship tops off the loaded tanks with inert gas.


      In 1978 we had the disaster of the Amoco Cadiz, which ran aground on the coast of Brittany with the loss of the ship with 221 hundred metric tons of cargo and about 4000 tons of fuel. The ensuing inquiry discovered that the wreck was caused by the shearing of smaller than required (a shipyard mistake) threaded studs in the ram steering. Therefore a second redundant system was mandated.


      Years later, Regulation 19 Annex I to MARPOL specified that new tankers launched after 1996 should have double bottoms and double hulls separated from the cargo tanks, which can be used as clean ballast tanks.


      With the imposition of the above rules, the shipping industry is safer while the sea is cleaner.


      JE comments:  Despite the decade's reputation for economic stagnation and bad fashion, the 1970s were triumphant for the environment.  In 1969 we had burning rivers in Cleveland.  On January 1st, 1970, President Nixon signed the EPA into existence.  Somehow we missed this Golden Anniversary on WAIS.


      A few days ago I saw an article that reflected on where we'd be now if we hadn't tackled air pollution through intelligent laws and technical innovation.  (The focus was on vehicle emissions.)  Some cities such as Los Angeles would literally, not metaphorically, be unable to sustain human life.


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