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2017-11-27 17:28
By Nam Sang-so



 
It was called the Korea Oil Corporation in 1962 (now the Korea National Oil Corporation) when Korea’s first refinery was being built in Ulsan on the southeastern coast. While the Fluor Corporation from Texas had provided overall engineering and construction management, a marine engineering company named the Hood Corporation from Whittier, California, was responsible for installing submarine pipelines and a crude oil unloading buoy mooring system.

I was assigned as project coordinator for the marine part of the project and as I didn’t want to be separated from my new wife, we went to a seaside village near Ulsan together when the sea breeze gently rippled the green barley field.

The buoy (12 meters in diameter) was installed 3km offshore which is the link between the subsea manifold connected to the submarine pipelines and the crude oil tankers. It was held to the sea bed by four ultra-heavy anchors on long chains.

The operation of a 10-meter-long service boat was one of my responsibilities. I let my car driver be my deck-hand while I did the steering. On that particular evening the sea was rough and the boat and the buoy were rolling and bumping violently. After I’d inspected all the mechanisms on the deck and confirmed the pilot light of the buoy was properly blinking, the driver and I jumped onto the boat deck. Before I started the engine, the poor driver let go of the mooring rope and the boat immediately swept away from the buoy by the current.

I quickly turned the ignition key but the engine failed to fire. I tried again but to no avail. I knew I shouldn’t flood the engine and waited for a minute and carefully turned the key, but still the engine didn’t move. The battery was dead. The boat was by now more than 50 meters away from the buoy and drifting by wind and current toward the deep sea.

Night fall quickly changed to total darkness. With the engine not running, there was no electricity to light the navigation lights and I knew the boat didn’t carry an anchor. Far away the lights of the fishing village where my wife was supposed to be waiting for me were dimming and finally sunk into the horizon.

I found Polaris in the star strewn sky. The boat was floating southward. What if drifts into the Pacific Ocean. I was at my wit’s end, and realized this is how a shipwreck occurs. It was so easy.

Then the fragrance of a cigarette smoke whizzed by. That idiot driver was smoking a cigarette sitting on the stern deck. I carefully snatched his lighter and tore off my shirt sleeves and dipped them in the waste oil pan. Tying the oil wet cloth to the end of the mooring pole, I kept waving the oil burning fire as a disaster signal.

After some three hours of desperately waving the torch, a large Korean whaler appeared from the dark horizon. The sailors skillfully tied a towing rope to my boat.

At the whaler’s port in Ulsan, I offered some cash to the captain emptying my wallet. “We don’t accept that. It’s the seaman’s duty,” said the sunburned old man as if it was nothing.


The writer (sangsonam@gmail.com) is a Korean War navy veteran.


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