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Smoking stack and lady

chandigarh Updated: Feb 03, 2014 09:09 IST
LJ Singh
LJ Singh
Hindustan Times
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US regulations governing air and water pollution control are very stringent, perhaps more so for foreign ships, especially those flying the flags of developing countries, including ours. There is sort of impression among the shipping fraternity that the US pollution control authorities are not very impartial and look the other way even when any of their own ship's stack is belching black smoke.

Once, after shifting my ship from Richmond to the nearby Oakland port in San Francisco Bay, I had gone to relax in my bedroom on board, when I heard a knock on my cabin door. The duty quartermaster had come to inform me that a 'Mem Sahib' had come on board and would like to see the chief engineer. After instructing the QM to escort the lady to my office, I hurriedly changed back to my uniform, all the time wondering about the visitor waiting in the adjoining office room.

Walking into my office, I met a strikingly beautiful woman with a half-smoked cigarette daintily but expertly held in her hand. She introduced herself as a pollution control inspector and informed me that due to my ship's generator smoke visibly coming out from the ship stack, she has to cite our ship for violation of air pollution regulations.

I knew from my experience with the US Pollution Control officials that any explanation regarding the quantum or cause of generator smoke would be useless. I vividly remembered an incident on my last ship in another US port. A deck crew member while painting the ship side, slipped and fell into the dock waters along with his painting brush. He was rescued by the other crew members but the paint brush could not be retrieved.

The US Pollution Control people promptly were on board, and instead of enquiring about the rescued member, they were more worried about the 'oily sheen' on the dirty dock water near the ship, caused by the paint on brush, and they imposed a hefty penalty on the ship for violating the water pollution regulations. They did not bother to listen to our defending reasons. Their real aim was to penalise the ship so that they could impress their department bosses and get good remarks.

So I readily said to her that I do agree to be the offender, but in a small way, so are you, ignoring the 'No Smoking' sign outside my office, and just to humour her and lighten the situation, I further added rather flippantly that 'Madam, if a beautiful and young lady can smoke, our generator is but poor 'old machinery'. To my great relief and surprise, she took the matter sportingly and promised to withdraw the dreaded citation, overlooking the unintentional violations of regulations, provided the offending generator was attended to as soon as possible. I immediately sent the instructions to duty engineer and a standby generator was put in operation, no smoke visibly coming out of the ship was readily noted and recorded by the madam which brought a satisfied smile on her lovely face.