GRATUITIES

In many parts of the world, the exchange of small gifts is considered necessary before conducting business, or formalities of entering a vessel into port. Port officials come aboard at anchor, or at the dock, and head for the captain's office. They may be few or many in number, depending on the port and the country. The officials complete the entry with customs, to make sure duty is paid on the cargo being landed. Immigration officials need copies of the crew list, and passengers' passports in order to issue shore passes, or to give permission for the crew and passengers to go ashore. Nobody can leave the ship until this is done. Also a quarantine officer may board in some places, to check the International Vaccination Certificates (shot cards) of the crew, and to make sure you will not infect the local population with communicable diseases. There may be also officials to inspect the ship to make sure it complies with international regulations and local port regulations pertaining to safety and pollution. In some countries there may be as many as a dozen officials boarding the ship after it docks. The smaller and more backward countries tend to have more officials than the larger industrialized nations. The captain is ready for this. Usually you have all the requested documents and forms prepared. When I started sailing the ships carried a purser to do this work, but they were eliminated when I was a junior officer, long before I was a captain. A captain will have some coffee, soft drinks, and if afternoon some alcoholic spirits are in order unless it is a Moslem country. It is good to have the steward or a waiter handy to assist with refreshments in order to speed the process. The most important thing, however, is to have a gratuity for every boarding officer. On American flag ships, it is a carton of Marlboro cigarettes. On European ships it can be a bottles of whiskey or several cartons of Marlboro's. I saw a Japanese ship that gave out tuna fillets.

Things became difficult when we had Jimmy Carter as president. When he signed the "Foreign Corrupt Practices Act" into law, we imposed our U.S. ideals on the international business community. It caused us a lot of trouble. No longer could you hand out fifty cartons of Marlboro's to find docking space in a crowded port, or transit the Suez Canal without delay. We had to be prepared to spend more time at anchor, sometimes weeks, at a great loss of revenue for the company and its shipping customers. Over the years we have learned to live with it, and somehow the proper palms get the needed grease, although at a different level than before. But until the late '70's it was not unusual to get small gifts in almost every port. I have a collection bric-a-brac from all around the world.

Today we still can hand out cigarettes one carton at a time, and in some places the tradition survives. On one of my last trips to sea we called at Durres, Albania, not long after they had gotten out from under a repressive Communist government. The people were really friendly and anxious to talk to outsiders. It was something that had been forbidden there for over 50 years. The officials boarded and were very friendly. The nicest was the doctor, who was the Quarantine officer. When I gave him the carton of cigarettes, he opened his doctors bag (they still make house calls there) he pulled out a live chicken and gave it to me in return. I was really touched at his sincerity. I suppose it was, in turn, a gift from a patient he had just seen. I really didn't know what to do with it, but since the Steward was there in my office taking care of refreshments, I presented him with the chicken. I told the doctor that we had many chickens in our freezer, but he said, correctly, that this one was more flavorful and nutritious.

I had forgotten about the chicken until the next afternoon when I was going ashore. I saw a very mad chief cook walking on the dock, with the chicken on a home made leash. He had to walk the chicken, he complained. It wasn't house-broken, and made a bad mess in his galley. He, nor none of us really wanted to butcher the poor bird. Near the gangway was a poor woman who was begging, and had a small girl with her. I told the cook to give her the chicken. She really seemed pleased. I had easily solved another problem of my command.