Maiden voyagers at the helm make international cruising history
OCEAN liners, once captained solely by men, today have four women in the top job, including Captain Sarah Breton, 46, appointed in July on board P&O’s Pacific Pearl.
Breton previously served as captain on P&O’s Artemis (formerly Royal Princess).
Her promotion also swells the number of senior female officers on P&O’s latest superliner to five: hotel director (effectively the ship’s general manager), cruise director, administration/revenue director and executive housekeeper. ‘‘We are really proud to be leading the way by bringing the first female captain to the region,’’ says Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, which operates P&OCruises.
In 2007, Captain Karin Stahre-Jansen, from Sweden, made international cruise history on reaching her pinnacle role on Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Monarch of the Seas, while Captain Inger Olsen, from Denmark, took the helm of Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria in December 2010. And since Breton’s appointment, Royal Caribbean Cruises has announced the fleet’s second female captain, Lis Lauritzen, who has taken command of Vision of the Seas.
Despite the flurry of appointments, Breton recognises that although many women set out on maritime careers, the long periods at sea pose a challenge for officers with families and there is a high rate of attrition in such jobs.
‘‘It takes time to build up the necessary experience,’’ says Breton, who grew up near the coast in Essex, England.
Her promotion is a positive story for our local cruise industry, which continues to grow steadily in tough economic times; the International Cruise Council Australasia 2010 figures show this country boasts the third largest cruise market by population. In 2009, during the global financial crisis, Australia’s cruise passenger numbers increased by 11 per cent, while in 2010 they soared by 27 per cent to a buoyant 466, 692. PARADISE is not always a pretty sight: white beaches can turn ominously dark with flotsam that washes up on the tide, drawing an ugly line in the sand as imperishables are deposited along the high-water mark.
But it’s not just fishermen and waterside-dwellers discarding their rubbish and watching dispassionately as the current sweeps it along: tourists who cruise the high seas share responsibility for much of the detritus that pollutes our oceans.
‘‘[Litter] is a problem associated wherever there are high levels of tourism, coupled with waste being illegally deposited at sea, which washes up on to the beaches,’’ says Mikael Krafft, owner-operator of specialty cruise line Star Clippers. ‘‘A lot of vessels are using the same waters and can have a negative impact on the environment.’’
But the tide is beginning to turn, with passengers on Star Clippers’ hi-tech, luxury replica clipper ships taking matters into their own hands. Recently a group volunteered alongside a West Indian charity to clean up 770kg of rubbish from two beaches on the Caribbean island of St Kitts. And many passengers are turning their holidays into lessons in marine biology, availing themselves of Star Clippers’ on-board ecoawareness program.
‘‘I try to give the guests an introduction to the study of the characteristics of the sea in this superb subject called oceanography,’’ says Mariano Peruzzo, one of the marine biologists working aboard Royal Clipper, the company’s flagship.
Aside from conducting marine research, Peruzzo educates passengers about the environment through which they are cruising and shows them how to examine beach eco-systems. Star Clippers says that by providing this service it’s not only enhancing the travel experience of its guests but educating them about the importance of preserving the marine environment and leaving behind a beach that is cleaner than when they first stepped on it.
But not everyone is interested in environmental matters and participation in the ecoawareness program is by no means mandatory.
‘‘I talk each day to about eight to 12 per cent of the passengers,’’ Peruzzo says. ‘‘It’s not that many, but it doesn’t matter.
‘‘If more people had had the chance to follow an ecology course in high school, the world might not be in the mess it is today. At least some of them have a second chance here on board and will take steps as a result to be more responsible and conscious.’’
The program, coupled with eco-friendly cruise practices such as the use of wind power, high-quality, low-sulphur gas oil and biodegradable on-board cleaning products, is nonetheless helping to bring about a change in passengers’ consciousness. Peruzzo says he regularly receives encouraging feedback from guests once they’ve returned home.
‘‘[That’s] the best experience of the project. Some of them send emails asking how it’s working, if my lab is ready, how was the last dive? One guest sent me Sharkwaters, a very nice documentary about sharks, which I show on board now,’’ he says. ‘‘I’m a conservationist so I am by nature an optimist.
‘‘You have to believe it’s possible to turn around the trends that you see on this planet. But we need to get going.’’
Star Clippers passengers cleaning a beach on St Kitts