(Editor’s Note: For many years, “Seafaring Tales” has been part of the Mesquite Local News on-line edition, and occasionally made its way into the newsprint product, bringing faraway places to the Virgin Valley. Unlike the never-changing great oceans of the world, the lives of the men and women who toil upon the sea do change. For now, it’s time to say goodbye to Steve Dickson and his “Seafaring Tales.”)
I started telling these seafaring tales to you a few years ago and this will be the last one.
For the past several months I've been working aboard the M/V Overseas Long Beach, a large tanker carrying gasoline running back and forth between Texas City, Texas, and Jacksonville, Fla. This is my permanent job if I want it and will be so for the foreseeable future, I reckon. I'm rather spoiled here because we have satellite TV, internet capacity in port, and mostly calm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. We are in port for three days in Texas and two in Jacksonville, with only three and a half days at sea in between. Nothing exciting or adventurous, just a steady run and a daily routine that doesn't vary greatly. I usually work ninety days and take off forty five and I also can control my schedule, which is something new.
BP (British Petroleum), which has this charter for a few more months, has sold many of its refinery assets in America to Marathon Oil including Texas City in Jacksonville, Cherry Point in Washington and Carson in Calif. Overseas Shipholding Group, which runs the ship, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to poor business choices and is currently reorganizing. So the future holds some uncertainty as to where we'll go from here. Hopefully the run will remain the same with Marathon. It's an American company with a good record.
I'm happy to be working steadily during these unstable economic times, but then I've been working since the age of 12 and have never been unemployed unless it was by choice and I haven't made that choice. I believe that if a person wants to work, there is work available. It may not be your “dream job” but there is always work out there for those who choose to do it, even just until something better is found.
For the past 22 years I've been going to sea and it has and continues to be good honest work. I'm proud to have been able to support our troops by taking materiel back and forth to Kuwait several times and to strategic points around the world. I'm proud to be a member of the Seafarers International Union. We deliver the cargo that runs the world. Some people are blaming unions for all kinds of things but the fact remains that unions have a long history of protecting workers from those whose desire for wealth and power outweighs ethical treatment of those who provide that wealth and strive for a decent life for their families.
Please learn more about the Jones Act and support the maritime industry because it has a strong tradition in America which must never be allowed to fail. It has been weakened in the past by “flags of convenience,” which should be shut down. Just recently there is a foreign-flagged Carnival cruise ship being towed to Alabama which was disabled by a fire at sea. It's full of angry American tourists who are suffering along with those from many different countries that serve them, who don't make a living wage and live in sometimes squalid conditions on these ships. If you go on a cruise, look around and talk with the servers and room attendants.
I'd like to thank my wife, Sandee, for standing beside me and not running away from the challenges that faced her; for keeping the home fires burning and for making me want to be a better person. Thanks as well to Morris Workman for allowing me to share these experiences and Stephanie Frehner for continuing them. I'm sure that Morris is greatly missed in Mesquite. He is a rare individual. An honest person who seeks the truth wherever it leads and dares to speak and share it with others. Thanks to the readers who took the time to read these columns and offered feedback.
It has been amazing to be able to travel around the world and to see how much all people have in common. We are far more alike than we are different. Never forget to be thankful for your blessings every day because I have also seen much suffering and most of it comes from the hand of man. We all can make that change and it is happening little by little.
Being a seaman means leading a nomadic life, missing many events at home which define family life. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and many other occasions spent far away, sometimes a thousand miles from nowhere, being tossed around at the whim of King Neptune. It means living and working and spending too much time with people whom you would never associate with otherwise and having so little precious time with those you love.
It also means doing a job that is vital and necessary and waking up in places that you've read about and seen in books, and standing at the rail watching the sun rise over the sea, feeling very much alive. Got some more years of that left in me... finished with engines.