ITF inspectors deal with an enormous range of issues — as enormous as human behaviour. Sometimes the problem is non-payment of wages, or onboard conditions like lack of food, clothing or heat. Other times, we’re called in to help sort out the kinds of things that happen on a long voyage where a group of workers live, eat and work together for months and behave at times like all of us do.
Many times we are called in over an on-board dispute. Sometimes it’s harassment — occasionally sexual harassment — and sometimes it’s just a good time gone bad, much like happens ashore. Ships can be that way; they’re crewed by human beings. On those occasions, our job is to ask that government authorities like police investigate thoroughly and treat crimes committed aboard foreign-flagged vessels in Canadian waters just as they would any other crime they may be called to investigate.
Vince Giannopoulos, the ITF’s Great Lakes/St. Lawrence inspector, ran into one of those cases this month. We pass along his story, in his words.
I was onboard a vessel in Montreal this month conducting a routine inspection. The crew was happy and the captain was very professional. Then, just before completing that inspection, I received a call from Transport Canada officials on the north shore east of Quebec City.
Information was limited, but they advised me that while the Portuguese-flagged Linda Oldendorff was at anchor outside Port Cartier, an altercation had taken place between three crew members. I was told two had been rushed to hospital via launch boats, and that one was being held in his cabin until the police could arrive.
The ship had arrived from Rotterdam to the bay near Port Cartier on Jan. 20. One of the ratings who had been with the company for many years had received confirmation that he would be promoted to an officer — something he had been eagerly awaiting for a long time. In his honour, the crew decided to hold a little celebration; the Russian captain approved and was happy to see his crew enjoying themselves.
The crew was a mix of many nationalities. The officers were Sri Lankans, Indonesians and Turks; the ratings, which included Filipinos, were similarly mixed. They had always gotten along, and there was no reason to think it would be any different on this night.
It is still unclear exactly what caused emotions in the room to change, but the details I was provided indicate that at one point in the night, the motorman had become visibly upset. This lead to a disagreement between him and a deckhand. After some petty arguing, the 2nd engineer thought he should step in and calm the motorman down, so he approached him. It took a turn for the worst at this point, I was told, and as the motorman’s emotions boiled over, he grabbed a bottle, smashed it over the table and attacked the deckhand and 2nd engineer. He didn’t do much damage — relatively speaking — to the DH, but landed a hit on the 2nd engineer, piercing his neck in two spots, I understand. The crew reacted quickly; they rushed to the engineer and got him to a safe location. According to the witnesses, they had never seen so much blood. They reacted in such an efficient and professional manner that by the time the paramedics had arrived on the ship, they had already managed to stop the bleeding with some bandages, and all that was left was for the paramedics to transport him to the hospital to receive proper medical treatment.
The 2/E spent a couple of days in hospital, but before long was released and spent the rest of his time in a hotel room, waiting to receive his ticket home. He is due to get married very shortly. When I saw him at the hotel, I had already completed my inspection of the ship and had some idea of the story of that night. I told him how surprised I was that the motorman had not been taken into custody. The 2/E showed me the business cards from the officers who had investigated the case, and told me that the man who attacked him was a father of two. He said he understood that if the man was charged, the two children would likely grow up in terrible conditions with no father, with no one to help the family financially — so he really did not want any charges laid.
I still have mixed feelings about that way of thinking, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the thoughtfulness of the 2/E.
Both men will be flown home separately, with one being escorted to the plane by security guards at the choice and expense of the company. And an officer onboard with the necessary qualifications will be promoted so as to satisfy the safe manning of the vessel, which will sail for China, arriving in about a month from now.