ABOARD THE SEA SONG -- It is people like this Swedish supertanker's captain, Hans Andersson, who help explain why, for a price, the tanker war in the Persian Gulf has failed so far to stanch the flow of a fifth of the noncommunist world's oil.
"We're not heroes," said the affable, 39-year-old Andersson of his 22 Swedish crew members, "just people doing jobs."
Now anchored in international waters just outside the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, the Sea Song has kept working despite the war that Iran and Iraq are waging against largely neutral shipping.
The 357,000-ton crude carrier serves as a floating storage tank for Kuwait, which shuttles crude oil in small boats from the northern gulf for those customers unwilling to risk possible Iranian attack.
Until this spring, the Sea Song performed a similar mission for almost two years for Iran. It was moored at a makeshift loading facility at Larak Island, just north of the Strait of Hormuz, to collect oil from vessels that shuttled from Iran's vulnerable port at Kharg Island.
Here in international waters off the United Arab Emirates' rudimentary ports of Khor Fakkan and Fujayrah, dozens of tankers wait in safety just outside the expensive war-risk insurance zone before running through the Strait of Hormuz and into the gulf.
The Sea Song is one of many supertankers that have worked for both sides and Andersson and other captains keep whatever preferences they may have to themselves.
Boredom and humid 115-degree heat are the main problems aboard what used to be called the "Larak Hilton" because of its luxurious crew quarters.
The Sea Song emerged unscathed from Iraqi air attacks that forced the closure of Iran's undefended Sirri Island offshore loading facility and later attacks at Larak. "Sometimes we had the feeling that those Iraqi planes we kept seeing overhead were coming for us," Andersson said, "but you've got to think positively."
The Swedes saw damaged tankers hit on the exposed shuttle run -- many badly holed, some with their enormous superstructures that house the crew twisted from fire. But their precious crude cargo arrived largely intact.
Working for Iran, the crew received untaxed 200 percent bonuses, a notable inducement for Swedes used to income tax taking as much as 80 percent of their pay. That and a sense of doing the job explained why no crewmen exercised their rights as members of Sweden's seamen's union to leave the war zone after Sirri and Larak were attacked last year.
Shuttle tanker captains -- mainly Greeks, Britons and West Germans -- made as much as $2,000 a month and their crews -- often Filipinos, South Koreans or Singaporeans -- are also paid far above scale.
The Swedes' main fear, Andersson recalled, was that Iraqi aircraft would attack while the Sea Song, acting as "mother ship," was taking on crude from one of about 20 ships involved in the Kharg shuttle and pumping oil onto tankers waiting to sail for overseas destinations.
"No way to get free from the moorings with the other two ships if any of us had been hit," Andersson remarked, "and fire could shoot through the loading hoses."
Although duty here does draw premium pay, one crew member said, "Money isn't everything."
Still, money is what makes the oil industry tick. The 10-year-old Sea Song's 2.3 million-barrel cargo is worth about $40 million at current prices, while the ship would sell for no more than $15 million -- and less than half of that if scrapped.
The Sea Song's latest risky voyage was a five-day round trip at 16.5 knots top speed up to Kuwait and back in March.
Like all other shipping, it maintained radio silence throughout. But as it headed fully laden back through the Strait of Hormuz at night to safety, the Iranian Navy came on the VHF radio.
All shipping must identify itself and specify its cargo, port of call and other information. In the past, the Iranian Navy has been known to sign off with a bon voyage message and within hours the ship has been hit.
Andersson refused to acknowledge the Iranian Navy call and admitted he was a bit upset that the Iranians knew that his ship was the Sea Song. Nothing happened, but captain and crew cannot help wondering whether they were spared because of services rendered at Sirri and Larak, when they stayed in Iran's service so long that instead of being known by the code "Mother 82" the Sea Song was nicknamed "Grandmother 82."
For now, the Sea Song's crew has no such worries. Soon after the USS Stark was attacked May 17, the tanker's owners decided not to send it back into the gulf.