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A tankerman on leave

30 Apr 2019

A tankerman on leave Image

By Rhonda Dredge

Ports were once dangerous places and seafarers were away from their families for 10 months at a time so a little bit of Christian attention didn’t go astray.

Counselling is offered, help with finances, maps of the city and bars are available at Melbourne’s two missions.

“It used to cost $11 a minute to phone home. Now a call costs a couple of cents a minute,” said Captain Eric Flores, off a Stolt chemical tanker from Singapore.

Captain Flores spoke to Dockland News about the way the industry has changed over the past 20 years. He makes the journey between Singapore and Melbourne every two months.

“Now seamen can talk to their families every day while on board,” he said, “and they have entertainment, karaoke and play stations.”

The life of a seaman is more one of routine than risk.

The industry is heavily regulated for chemical tankers with safety checks every six months to guard against spills during unloading and accurate weather forecasts mean that the tanker can avoid most low pressure systems, travelling at 30 knots to arrive 14 days later in Melbourne.

Pirates still roam the Malacca Straits, the captain conceded, and they can scale a tanker.

Some seaman won’t risk some ports in Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States, preferring to stay on board.

“The crime rate is high,” Captain Flores said of these places. “The port itself is safe but once you go outside you’re on your own. In the Caribbean a cadet got stabbed. In some parts of Asia they will rob you. I usually go with a lot of people.”

The missions have contributed to the safety of Melbourne’s port. There is the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Centre in Little Collins St and Mission to the Seafarers in Flinders St.

When the chemical tanker arrived it was 1 am and the captain and his second mate were looking forward to a bit of shore leave.

They had the brochures from the two missions, one Catholic, the other Anglican.

Both missions offered to send down a bus to pick them up.

Some of the more enterprising seamen store bicycles on the boats and ride down to the closest shops, The Distric Docklands for tanker crew where there are cafes and Costco for a few supplies.

Captain Flores followed his father into the industry. “The best time is going home,” he said.

He had just one complaint. A seaman once had the chance to transfer between different types of ships.

Now, once a tankerman, always a tankerman.

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