The Irish captain of industry whose career is all at sea
TRAVELLING for work can be a bit of a drag — unless you’re Tom Connery that is. For most of us, coming home from a work trip normally involves a wait for the bags, a queue at passport control and dragging your cases to the airport taxi rank.
For Connery, it meant navigating a 90,000-tonne ocean liner slightly shorter than the Eiffel Tower through Dublin’s bustling port.
Connery, who hails from Hook Head, got a bird’s eye view of his home in Dublin’s Marino — just a stone’s throw from the Ocean Pier — as he took one of Cunard’s grand dames, Queen Victoria, for a homecoming with a difference.
This column caught up with him on board the most British of institutions — it features a Britannia Club restaurant, Queen’s Room for ballroom dancing and Royal Court Theatre — as it geared up for the British royal wedding as it sailed around Ireland and Britain.
Still, the Irish are in command on Victoria, launched by Camilla Parker-bowles, and given a €39m makeover last year. Antrim’s James Cusick is head of hotel operations, while Nuala O’donnell, from Donegal, is a third officer, overseeing the bridge.
Ocean-based holidays are big business for Ireland, with more than 150 vessels due to dock in Dublin alone this year, contributing an average of €1m a pop to the local economy from high-spending tourists, most of them older and American, British or European.
Still, there are challenges. The port’s head of cruise business, Pat Ward, told the Sunday Independent that it’s looking to invest up to €1bn to make the port shipshape.
And investment is needed. Connery, who studied in Cork IT and the National Maritime College of Ireland, revealed that Dublin is one of the trickiest ports to navigate into, given its narrow width and the number of ships passing through it.
So if you’re grumbling about driving around our capital, and finding a parking spot, spare a thought for the world’s mariners. With its Air France sister in the wars lately, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been keen to spread its own bit of good news. Recent research by the University of Sydney claimed that the carbon footprint attributable to global travel is four times worse than feared — and air travel is a major culprit, despite advances in fuel-saving aircraft.
Now KLM is offsetting its carbon footprint in a major way. It’s using sustainable biojet fuel for its route from Amsterdam Schiphol to Vaxjo in Sweden, and also compensates the total remaining carbon dioxide emissions by partnering with Vaxjo’s airport. The compensation involves reforestation in Panama.
Nasa has estimated that a 50pc aviation biofuel mixture can cut air pollution caused by air traffic by 50pc-70pc. KLM, which also uses the fuel on its LA route, is among a group of airlines looking to increase its biofuel usage. Others in the initiative include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, United and Virgin Atlantic.
But not everyone is convinced — including Ryanair CEO Michael O’leary. He told an audience back in 2015 that “nobody is really flying around the world on aircraft powered by biofuel — it’s generally all powered on kerosene, the rest is a PR stunt designed to appeal to some middle-aged, middle-classed person worrying about the future”.
His approach is to utilise modern fuel-saving aircraft to make his fleet greener — and with greater fuel efficiency cutting down on costs.
“We are Europe’s leanest and greenest airline as we have the youngest fleet and so burn less oil ... on a per passenger basis we are burning the least CO2 emissions, but other than that I don’t really care about all that stuff,” he argued at the same event.
Scandinavian Airlines — which has had the longest presence in Dublin of all foreign airlines — is promising on-board connectivity that will be 10 times faster than traditional wifi.
A spokesman here said: “Passengers on SAS short- and medium-haul routes will now have access to a stable, fast and strong wifi signal, enabling them to stream movies and work inflight problem-free.”
SAS Plus, Eurobonus Diamond and Gold travellers can enjoy free wifi all the way. Passengers in Go, or Economy passengers, will have to pay €4.90, or the equivalent in other currencies.
SAS said that Silver members will be offered free wifi in the launch campaign period from last week to August 19.
Tomas Connery, the Irish captain of Cunard’s Queen Victoria, in Dublin. Photo: Mark Evans