Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vado a bordo Cazzo- What are the Officers Like?

Have you been on a cruise?  Then you probably know that today's ships haveofficers and crew that can number over 1,000!  Let's go over the basics.

Officers - Most ships are set up in a military fashion.  That it, the Captain is the highest ranking officer.  Everyone else bows to him, with one exception: the Senior Doctor.  That's right, if Doc says the ship must go ashore but the Captain doesn't wish to, Doc prevails and takes the wheel.  Officers are usually from developed, seafaring countries such as Italy, Greece, Netherlands, of the UK.  Of course, nationalities vary.  If you have a choice, you do NOT want to end up on any ship with Greek officers.  They are legendary isolationist pricks who do more damage to the companies they work for than the service they pretend to provide.  Even as they are reading this (while wearing aviator sunglasses and a disgusting gray mustache full of pita crumbs) they are furious, yet smirking and nodding slightly in agreement.  One legendary example of how Greeks are pricks stems from Celebrity Cruise Line, owned by RCCL.  The Greek Officers ran the ship.  They controlled the personel logs.  They paid the ship's crew.  Well they set up a systemt o invent crew members and filled cabins with these people.  They made the pay envelopes and processed them to all department heads, who were Greek.  Then they all through these fictional crew members' pay in a kitty and split up the money.  No one shore-side realized this because they could all hide behind the Greek language for decades.  They milked the company of millions of dollars.

Another thing rampant on the ships is sexual harassment.  If you have Greeks on the ship and you are a woman - forget it.  They are all married with kids and they will not stop from trying to get into your cabin and calling you at all hours of the night.  Even if the company has a strict policy against harassment, it still goes on.  The "Three Stripes and Above" club always circles the wagons and protects each other.  I have an example.  Signing off the Royal Princess in 2007 or 8 there was a Portuguese waitress.  Princess cruises has mostly Italian officers.  The girl was so sweet and it was her first ship.  She watched a video about how the company was against harassment. She shows up for work and her married boss starts putting the moves on her.  She's about 25 and he's Italian and over 50.  She tells him to stop.  It keeps continuing till almost the day she leaves. She tells the Maitre D, who is Italian. Then she has to go to the PSD (Hotel Manager) because she is unhappy every day.  The PSD, Arturo, a short Italian with a famous loud mouth, tells her that's how ships work and she needs to toughen up if she wants a career at sea.  Seeing that the staff captain and captain were both Italian, the waitress did the only thing she could: sign off the ship in tears going back to her family without any money.  The company had her buy her own ticket to Portugal because she broke her contract.  I was in the cab with her to the airport in Venice, Italy.  My wife and I were shocked that this still went on after all the lawsuits within the Carnival Corporation (sexual harassment) and all the videos we watched in Princess Cruises about the "Zero Tolerance" for that behaviour.

Most officers go through an extensive hazing ritual when they are deck cadets.  These practices are frowned upon at "corporate" nowadays but have been rampant on every ship I've been on from 2000-2010.  "Corporate" policy makers have MBAs and wear really nice pants in Miami or LA and most of them have never stepped on a ship.  They don't know how the Marine department should interact with the Hotel department.  Marine drives the ship and is responsible for safety, while hotel, well, you probably can guess. 

Safety drills are THE WORST. This is the one chance that stupid dolt of a third officer has to YELL at the top of his lungs at some Phillipino who hardly speaks English.  They threaten to send people home and when I was on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas they did a boat drill in Cozumel, Mexico.  As all the passengers were getting off the gangway, we were huddled together wearing our REQUIRED warm clothing and hat and lifejacket in the 95 degree sun (yes in the sun)  They forced us so closely together that FIVE crew members that day passed out from the heat.  This was done to make us safe. Even the officers waited in the shade while crew members "in charge" did the roll call.  Sometimes you are forced to stand at attention for over an hour.  No Leaning, no hands in the pocket, no talking.  Officers give you warnings if the "catch you."  There is no purpose to this one hour of time, other than the officers are getting their shit together and drinking cappucinos up on the bridge.  After one hour, you are "dismissed and shore leave is granted."

On the Premier Ocean Breeze, now defunct, the row boats were very old.  They didn't have engines!  This is in 1999!  You had a stick between your legs and crew members rocked it forward and back, engaging the gear for the propeller.  Tragically, in lowering these lifeboats a crew member died while the seas rocked and a metal boat from three stories up crashed down on him.  The company went bankrupt in 2001 with their last ship mysteriously sinking in the ocean with no passengers and a skeleton crew.  What kind of life insurance or workers comp do you think the Phillipino's family received?

Due to an arcane law called the Jones Act, passenger ships travelling within the United States must be American flagged with a high percentage of American Crew (coastguard certified.) The ship fell under American Law and American labor practices. This was enacted to protect American ferry owners and ocean liners from underpriced foreign competition.  Today no ship can afford to fall under American Labor laws because the cruise line pays far under minimum wage and does not honor overtime and holidays.  As a loophole, every cruise you've ever been on has a flag of convenience.  The sketchier the flag, the sketchier the ship.  Ever been on a ship registered in Monrovia, Liberia? Panama? Bahamas? These are notorious for not enforcing any laws.  If you think you can sue a cruise line, think again.  You aren't on US soil - you are on Liberian soil.  Alot of people are shocked by this revelation.  For more info, check out:

In all fairness, 99% of all officers I've met were ultra professional.  Well, maybe less but really most of them.  The Greeks are the worst, the Italians pretty bad (vado a bordo cazzo!), the Brits all think they are still ruling the world and the Dutch quite lovely, actually.  It's pretty much like the real world, strangely enough. To be an officer you have to join a dedicated navigational school and you are pretty much looking for a seafaring career.  It sounds fun when you are 18, but picture yourself 45 years old and having a wife and children at home while you are away for 4 months with some beauty salon girlfriend.  It happens.

Those are the officers, stay tuned for comments about the ship's staff....