Sunday, August 10, 2008

Captain Attilio Guerini of Caribbean Princess

The stereotypical image of a cruise ship captain is of a man who spends the bulk of his time standing on the bridge of the ship navigating the ship from one port to the next. However, while the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the ship, he is not merely a ship driver. Instead, his role can be thought of as more like that of the CEO of a business with other executives reporting to him. As ships become bigger and bigger, this role becomes more and more akin to the management of larger and larger enterprises.

On most ships today, the captain is at the top of a pyramid composed of three departments. The hotel department, which provides services to the passengers including the accommodations, entertainment and dining, is headed by the hotel director (sometimes called the passenger services director or the hotel manager) and has the largest number of people in it. The engineering department is concerned with making the ship go and the technology involved. It is headed by the chief engineer. The staff captain is responsible for navigation and actually sailing the ship. In addition to heading the deck department, he is also the second in command. All three of these officers report directly to the captain.

Captains still rise up through the ranks of the deck department. As such, their expertise is in navigation and sailing and they take a particular interest in that area. Indeed, many captains like to have their hands on the controls of the ship when docking or leaving a berth. They do not have direct knowledge of how to cook a dinner for a thousand people or of fixing the ship’s fresh water system. However, in order to become a captain, a deck officer must keep his eyes open while coming up through the ranks so that he knows the problems and issues that arise in the hotel department and the engineering department.

When I was on Caribbean Princess recently Captain Attilio Guerini spoke to me about his approach to being a captain of a mega-cruise ship. Beginning with Sitmar Cruises, he has gone on to command ships for Princess and its affiliate Ocean Village Cruises. His style is relaxed, affable and low key. Our conversation is at

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