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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Tanker Crews and Pilfered Oil
Created by John Eipper on 07/22/21 11:07 AM

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Tanker Crews and Pilfered Oil (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 07/22/21 11:07 am)

I have written in past WAIS posts about "smart" Captains/Chief Engineers who pilfer crude oil cargo, blending it with the ship's fuel oil but risking an explosion with the loss of the ship.

But other Captains/Chief Engineers were even "smarter," as they took cargo to sell on the high seas to small smuggling tankers.

When the tanker arrives at the discharge port a measurement is made with the Chief Officer and a Receiver representative prior to the discharge.  Generally, the quantity is correct in relation to the measurement from the loading port. A small loss is tolerated, especially after long voyages and warm seas because of evaporation.  For instance, this is common on trips around the African Cape.

When I was port captain at Chicago, a sister company had a chartered ship that on every trip would discharge cargo with a great loss but everything appeared to be correct. So I went to inspect her in a port on the US East Coast.

As soon I was on board, the Levantine Captain was extremely friendly and spoke fairly good English.  Then when he understood that I was Italian he started speaking Italian and seemed that he had found a lost brother.  Oh well, we were Mediterranean brothers, one face and one race. He offered me the usual whiskey and cigarettes, but at that time I drank only wine and did not smoke.  But I enjoyed the nice meal.

I went on inspection and at first, I found nothing wrong.

To check if a tank was empty a probe/sound is lowered into the tank from a special sounding spot until it reaches the bottom.  Then it is brought back and if the probe is clean of oil, or just with the very tip covered in oil, it means that the tank is empty.

All tanks of the tanker seemed completely dry. But as I was not satisfied I lowered the probe from other openings on the deck, the Butterworth holes (such holes were used to lower the butterworth hoses to wash the tanks), and I found one foot of oil in each tank. The "smart" crew had built a secondary bottom one foot high, so even if on the bottom of the tank there was one foot of cargo, which a is a great quantity, the tank seemed completely dry.

When I went back to the Captain telling him what I had found, the poor fellow forgot both Italian and English. He requested a translator to gain time and to contact his owner, clearly an accomplice in the monkey business.

The full matter remained in the hands of the judicial system.

By the way, the Levantine crews at my time were probably the best seamen in the world.  They could sail on ships that were floating wrecks, going around with no big problems.  Of course they were taking risks.  The concept of "Safety First" for most of them was only an empty slogan. One of them, when I was loading master at Mina Saud, had the captain trying to chip on the deck while loading, which is one the most dangerous actions possible.

JE comments:  Eugenio, I'm curious how many barrels of oil can fit in that one foot of tanker space.  And what happened to the larcenous captain.  Here's a truism:  nobody is better able to steal from you than your own employees.

Nice sleuthing!


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  • How Many Barrels in One Foot of Oil Tanker? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/23/21 7:53 AM)

    John E asked, how many barrels in one foot of oil at the bottom of a tanker?


    It depends of course on the size of the vessel. I do not remember exactly for the specific case I wrote about yesterday, but probably it was at least 10,500 barrels. I did not make the calculation at the time, because as soon I discovered the trick the Receivers took over.


    I do not know what happened to the larcenous Captain, as the matter was passed along to our sister company. For sure the captain was in serious trouble.


    JE comments: At $50 per barrel, that would be over half a million. Not a bad day's "work" for the dregs on the bottom of your boat...

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