Ahab's Axplanations

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Federation of Grimsby Trawler Operatives

Ahab's Axplanations

An occasional column explaining the workings of the Amalgamated Fishery Management in a lighthearted yet informative manner.

Dear Fellow Operatives,

It is with the utmost sobriety that I have been called upon to 'axplain' the recent Admiralty report into pay and conditions of service for those in the Fishing Industry. It has been many years since I signed on Ship's Articles as a young tar, and in that time I have seen a gradual erosion of the remuneration which one could expect for serving at Sea. I have witnessed the demise of the hammock allowance, the reduction of grog expenses and the removal of free woodworm treatment for false legs.

This latest Admiralty docket has much in common with the Q-Ships which used to accompany the Murmansk convoys back in '42. These were specially converted cargo ships, which appeared from the outside to be harmless merchantmen plying their way through the cold Northern waters. If one got too close, however, one would see that there was one almighty gun pointing out between the decks which would be more than capable of holing a vessel fatally below the waterline.

Propaganda from the Ministry suggests that most common mariners will see an increase in their prize money, particularly if they work into the second dog-watch, or before eight-bells. Those who have specialist skills (sailmakers, chippies, donkeymen, sparkies, tiffies and pussers) are also shown to gain by replacing the disreputable 'SPP' (Special Piscatorial Payment scheme) with the new and identical 'SPP' (Special Piscatorial Payment' scheme).

The examples cited in the report, however, fail to account for such things as the freezing of annual bounty payments, and the rising costs of such items as ships' biscuits, marine diesel and grog. In this way operatives can be said to be 'gaining' in the same sense that Nelson 'gained' en empty sleeve when his arm was removed by a naval surgeon after being shot by a Spaniard in 1797.

This act of bureaucratic piracy has been presented like a dockyard strumpet in certain Far Eastern ports - painted up to look presentable, they don't bear close examination, and once the petticoats are raised there's a nasty surprise in store to leave you feeling swindled and hard done-by, in a very real sense.

I, for one, will be watching intently when the Fisheries Minister addresses the Piscatorial Federation at Conference next month in her best stiletto sea-boots. One hopes that she has learned lessons from the fate of Captain Bligh in similar circumstances, and shows that her government value the work of our operatives enough to avoid a full-scale mutiny.

Meanwhile in Grimsby and elsewhere, operatives are being asked to express a preference for where they wish to be posted following the review of the fleet next month. A form has been devised whereby mariners are asked to elect the vessel, department and home-port that they wish to work from. These forms pass through the usual chain of command, before being placed in a tombola machine salvaged from the Grimsby Seamen's Mission charity coffee-morning and jumble-sale. This will then be revolved in the proscribed manner, possibly by a local vicar under the supervision of an Admiralty human-resources specialist. By such scientific application we can be reassured that the placement of personnel will be fair and appropriate, and not, as has been scurrilously suggested, as accurate as grapeshot fired from an untethered 18-pounder cannon aimed by blind monkeys in the grip of a force 8 gale.

Yours in the poop and gripping his binnacle,

Capt A. Hab (M.N. Ret'd)