Puerto de Corruption

So i paid the following bribe at Dakar (it’s normal in all the third world minus the harassment):

Customs- 2 cases beer + 15 cartons of cigarettes + $600
Quarantine- 12 cartons of cigarette + $200 + 25 kg Chicken + 6 jars of Nescafé + some other provisions the cook will remember
Immigration -3 cartons of cigarette
Harbour Master- 4 cartons of cigarette

The Quarantine guy, with his two lackeys, was first to arrive. Some of the medicines in the ship’s medical locker, he claimed were narcotics and need to be kept under lock and key with key under my control. Since they were not, I was informed that I am involved in drug trade and spoiling the youth of Senegal. Hence the ship under my command would be fined a penalty of $5000 and I was to be arrested. This a first I thought. For a non -smoker and  a teatotaler to be arrested for drug smuggling was a fine thing. I was also issued a notice to be present in the court the next day. The novelty of the accusation and the frustration at failing to explain that for my Flag these medicines are not ‘drugs’ almost made me well up, but I thought it was the wrong time to cry. It would especially not become of the captain. So I offered 2 cartons of cigarettes and $100. He made a bitter face and asked me to present myself in his office the next day and later in court. On some grovelling and since he was a ‘good friend’ of the ship’s agent, he agreed to let me go with a slight rap of the above amounts paid from my pocket. He, of course, didn’t fail to mention that he never  does ‘this sort of thing’ and is very strict with other captains.
After his departure two guys from the customs arrived. I had been warned by the agent that if they find even a litre of difference between the actual and the declared fuel, paint, lubes and chemicals or any damn thing in any store, they will impose heavy penalties. The way out? Paying out the above amount. So that, at least, was smooth.
Next were 3 blokes from Harbour Master’s office. I immediately paid up the cigarette cartons.
The last on scene was a dude from the Immigration with his Rihanna look alike colleague. After going through all the passports, Seaman’s Books and crew lists she asked to see three crew members- crime ? they all had long hair. The Chief Engineer has a shaggy bunch on his head which he thinks makes him look like a rock star at 60. The Chief Officer is a turbaned Sikh with a bushy beard. And the Bosun has a typical Moslem style beard a la Lincoln. Making a circle round her face with a finger she said mischievously, “You know this, this is what we don’t like in Senegal.” All three accused of having hair, smiled genialy. Seamen are like that, they understand cultural differences and don’t take offence easily. We’re a motley bunch ourselves after all.
Chief Engineer offered, ” So that means I can go. I don’t have a beard. I’m a musician.”
“You can go to the jail with me” she replied.
We all smiled and the standoff continued.
In a while she said, “You the have 10 minutes to pack and come with me. What ? You don’t believe me? Either cut your hair or you won’t leave Dakar.”
“Are you a terrorist?” she asked the chief mate. About 15 minutes had passed in this waste of time and the jokes had stopped being funny.
“Let them go to work,” I told her ” they were picking up stores.”
She dilly dallied for a few minutes more till she finally let them go.
She was the most upfront in asking for bribes. She wanted some chicken too but I refused.

And then today. The Harbour Master appeared. A new chap. He claimed that he had seen one of the crew members sweeping dust overboard. I vehemently denied. “My crew is trained and we don’t throw anything. It’s rather the dirty water of your port which has stained my ship.”
So another standoff. Finally I had to pay $200 to avoid a penalty of $5000. I woke up the superintendent to inform him of the matter.

The bloody frustrating thing is that there is no need of proof when blaming the seaman. Media only shows ships when there are birds and the seals waddling in thick oil spilled accidently by some ship. The plight of the seaman is never shown. It is not at all surprising that most of the seafarers today are happier to be at the high seas instead of the ports. Ports give us the shivers. No. The 1st World ports are no better when it comes to harassment. The US tops the list of the most ‘I’d-rather-not-visit-that-country’ list. It’s not corruption in those countries but it is the jail sentences. They’re are given away like candy on Halloween. Freely. We’re going to the UK at the end of this voyage, I hope I don’t have any harrowing tale to share there.


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