To many people, working on a luxury cruise liner is a long way from the gritty world of oil tankers. But to John Krousouloudis, vice president of Marine Operations for Celebrity Cruises, the move from years of working in heavy duty shipping to the world of luxury cruise liners was not so much of a culture shock.

“The only difference is that in simple terms you still have a large ship, but it has an exclusive hotel within it,” says Krousouloudis. “The main challenge is that the cargo is somewhat different. Instead of precious petroleum, Celebrity Cruises’ ships each carry some 2,000 high-value consumers who embark with an extremely high set of expectations.

“They are our number one priority and we have to keep them all happy. They’re on vacation and, as a premier cruise line, we must provide the top service we’re known for.”

CLIMBING THE CAREER LADDER

Dealing with a new set of colleagues from sections such as hotel, food and beverages and entertainment, however, is not a challenge, as he has 29 years of experience in a whole range of posts in the shipping industry to fall back on. Krousouloudis trained at New York State University as a naval architect, embarking on a career path that was influenced by his Greek ancestry.

“My family had been in the shipping business for many years. Like the Norwegians, the Greeks have long had to use the sea and make a living out of it, and found they were pretty good at it.

“The university had a marine studies branch – the oldest marine academy in the USA – and as well as degrees, students could gain a third-engineer’s licence. This provided more benefits than the strictly academic degree. There was also a large training ship that students worked on in summer; we travelled around the world with it and had a lot of fun while we were learning.” Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

After leaving education, Krousouloudis was offered a job with oil giant Exxon as a third engineer in its US flag tanker fleet. Operations, he quickly found, were more his forte than ship design.

On board the Exxon ships, he progressed to the level of chief engineer, while on land he held down managerial jobs in the Florham Park and Houston offices. “Exxon provided excellent training for its employees and had a fantastic management development programme,” he remarks of his time with the company.

Seventeen years with Exxon were followed by experience in shipping consulting with ABS, which included managing a fleet of 40 oil tankers with AVIN International – something he says he always wanted to do – and later, a posting in Houston as president of Athenian Energy.

Then came the job at Celebrity Cruises – one of two cruise brands owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises – with Celebrity’s fleet of ten sleek luxury liners and a new career challenge. At Celebrity, Krousouloudis is responsible for all nautical and technical operations, as well as safety and environmental issues.

In his Miami office, he manages a team of over 30 people. On board, each ship has a team of around 100 people who are within his field of operations, including captains, deck, engine / technical and security staff.

SAFETY COMES FIRST

Of all the priorities the company has, the safety of the guests and the crew comes first – an area that is overseen by a whole raft of authorities that Krousouloudis has to deal with. “Ships are certified at various levels by different authorities,” he explains. “One group is the US Public Health Service, which inspects the ships at least twice a year for health and hygiene. Ships are certified and monitored by classification societies – in our case, the Lloyd’s Register and Germanisher Lloyd. Not only do they ensure the ships are built to a high standard, but that they are also maintained as such during their lifetime.

“Then the ships are registered to sail under the flag of Bahamas, which also ensures that the ships are operated and maintained to international safety standards. On top of that, the national authorities of the states where ports are visited inspect the ships, like the US Coast Guard. So there are many layers of security.”

“Of all the priorities the company has, the safety of the guests and the crew comes first.”

In many aspects of Krousouloudis’ role, advances in technology have had an impact, not least in the field of logistics. “That’s been greatly assisted with many types of technology, in particular satellite positioning systems,” he says. “They’re very accurate and allow you to see exactly where you are on a map. Even if the captain is not on a bridge, he can still see where the ship is on the chart in his office. All vessels have excellent monitoring systems centrally controlled on the bridge and engine control rooms.”

On-board risks remain a key concern and here, too, technology has assisted in their mitigation. Fire sensors are fitted around the ship and on-board cameras allow officers on duty to see the areas affected. “We also have advance sprinkler systems in the engine rooms and all over the ship,” says Krousouloudis. “They also allow a quick response in case of fire.”

Safety is not just a matter of technological tools. “We have to be proactive enough to ensure that things don’t happen,” he says, referring to some of the difficulties and tragedies that have befallen some passenger ships in recent times. “People often don’t think of the effort that goes into ensuring that the trips are incident-free. But we work 24 hours a day to avoid any accidents.”

Ensuring and promoting on-board safety is very much a combination of technology and people. “Well-trained officers are key,” he adds. “Whether issues are small or large, they must deal with them. And if people aren’t well trained, a small issue can escalate. When there are big casualties around the world, it’s often a case of something not being dealt with quickly enough.”

Krousouloudis’ major ambition for the future in the realm of safety is to further reduce the number of injuries on board. “We have 700 to 900 crew on board each ship,” he says. “We have a very good record, but still want to improve.”

KEEPING CLEAN AND GREEN

While safety is a critical issue, the environment has become a sensitive matter for cruise companies. “This is an area that must be recognised,” stresses Krousouloudis. “We want to develop ships that are environmentally friendly, and all authorities wherever you go expect you to respect the environment and to ensure that you have a minimal impact on it. But we have policies above and beyond compliance, which is known as our ABC policy.” This is Celebrity’s Environmental Management System, which has met ISO 14001 environmental standards.

“Each Celebrity ship has a dedicated environmental officer on board to ensure that environmental standards are met.”

Part of Celebrity Cruises’ policy is expressed in fitting four ships in the fleet with low emission gas turbines made by General Electric, which drive the generators and provide all electricity and propulsion for the ships. “This is a big technical advance,” says Krousouloudis. “They provide a lot of power in a small space and are very environmentally friendly.”

Exhaust emissions of nitrous oxide are reduced by 85% by the turbines and sulphur oxides by more than 90%. “The Millennium was Celebrity’s first ship to be fitted with the gas turbines, a development that was recognised in 2002 by Lloyd’s List with its Innovation in Shipbuilding award.”

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Waste is another crucial environmental issue. Strict regulations govern how far from land ships must be before wastewater can be released overboard. In 2002, the fleet carried out on-board testing of some advanced water treatment systems and later participated in studies of cruise ship discharges by Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The testing found that effluent from ships had no discernible impact when purified to regulatory standards.

Advance water treatment plants are now being installed on Celebrity ships. “These allow us to treat water and waste on board and to release it into the ocean as purified water,” he says. “I expect that such plants will eventually be installed on all ships in the fleet.”

Each Celebrity ship has a dedicated environmental officer on board to ensure that environmental standards are met, and to oversee the operation of waste systems. The officer also is responsible for ensuring that all members of the crew, including housekeeping staff, undertake environmental and safety training.

In recognition of its progress in the environmental field, the company has attracted its share of accolades. In 2002, Celebrity was the only cruise line to gain the William M Benkert Award for Environmental Excellence, the top national award for maritime environmental protection given by the US Coast Guard, and which recognised that the company’s programme exceeded the necessary compliance with regulatory standards. In the same year, the company was also named Best Eco-Friendly Cruise Line by Porthole Cruise Magazine.

DEDICATED SECURITY

Today, as in many other businesses, security looms large in managers’ minds. Krousouloudis has dedicated security teams both on board and in his office. “This is now a big part of what we do,” he says. “Each vessel has a large team of officers and staff who do all the screening of embarking and disembarking passengers, as well as the loading of supplies.”

“Celebrity plans to build a new cruise ship and launch a new class of landmark ships at the German shipyard of Meyer Werft.”

Technology has assisted in this field too. “Guests are now given a card-key like those used in hotels when they check in on board. Their picture is taken at the start of the cruise and when they go on and off the ship, they can be readily identified by photo by security staff. The card-key is current for only one cruise, so if people take another cruise, a new card must be issued.”

Security systems at ports used around the world are carefully scrutinised by Krousouloudis’ team. “We are always vigilant,” he says. “In today’s international environment this is one of our top priorities.”

MAINTENANCE AND FLEET PROJECTS

Keeping Celebrity’s large luxury liners in top condition is also the responsibility of Krousouloudis’s marine operations team on each ship. “The effort on each ship is ongoing and is combined with drydock periods every few years when the ships are taken out of service for major repairs and maintenance,” he says.

The team is also involved in refurbishment programmes. Starting in early 2006, Celebrity’s Century will undergo a $55m makeover, in which new suites, staterooms and 314 new verandas will be added. This refurbishment will entail a five-week stay in drydock.

The company also plans to build a new cruise ship and launch a new class of landmark ships at the German shipyard of Meyer Werft. The ships will have distinctive new features, and over 90% of the outside staterooms and standard staterooms will be larger than the standard staterooms in the industry, Krousouloudis reports.

The company is always on the lookout for new destinations. “When a destination is under consideration, our team assesses it operationally,” he says. “We have to ensure that the ports are safe and can handle the size of our ships, and that they can work effectively and safely.”

One area Krousouloudis is most proud of is the low turnover and high calibre of deck and engine officers on all the ships in the fleet. The company has particularly thorough training programmes in safety and environmental matters. Many of Celebrity’s officers started their careers with the company. “They’re our biggest asset in the safety and environmental and overall vessel operation areas,” Krousouloudis says proudly. “State-of-the-art ships are important, but it’s the people that really make the difference and we have some of the best in the industry.”