"At the Captain's Table" is Cruise Critic's original series of stories penned by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis. Joyce knows the ins and outs of life onboard -- both as a cruise ship staff member and as the wife of Celebrity Cruises' venerable Captain Adamidis -- and offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on issues facing cruisers and the cruise industry.
Judging the Crew
Now that the initial shock waves of the Mercury captain's recent arrest in Seattle have calmed just a bit, I feel compelled to write to you. With 25 years crew experience onboard ships, trust me when I say this is a real pickle to write about. The subject is a delicate and a judgmental one. Not all of you will agree with what I will say, but I can attempt to give you some insight into a rare incident which has caused a variety of reactions from Cruise Critic members, ranging from compassion to anger and sarcasm.
I would like to set these record straight by arbitrarily telling it like it is.
First of all, what is my personal reaction? According to what I have read, I am mad; he knows better. I know he would never intentionally put any person in danger but it was a judgment error. If true, I would like to give him a piece of my mind.
But he is facing up to the fact. It's frightening, for a foreigner, to be arrested in the United States for wrongdoing. It is the role of the courts and our system to evaluate the situation. It is not ours. We don't know all the facts. Allow the courts and our system to take care of it and move on. Being hypercritical will neither rectify nor will it solve the problem. Accusations have run wild. Since several breath tests have been taken, each with a different number, this is not a secure way to prove it. A blood alcohol test is the sure way, and this has never been mentioned. That's sure reason for the courts to determine the facts in the matter.
Though there are no positives in drinking, there is a positive in having a drink to relax from a stressful job. Having one or two drinks can bring you to or just past the legal limit, but it does not constitute drunkenness. Abusing the privilege of having a drink is an entirely different manner. It is a rather rare occurrence. The consequences are swift and unrelenting.
I would like to address a few points made on the message boards by Cruise Critic members -- and, hopefully, add a proper perspective. Many have stated they have seen captains drink Champagne while giving a welcome aboard speech, or a toast at a cocktail party.
Let me share here a possible misperception. I was working with one captain who announced to the passengers at a welcome aboard party that since the magician onboard was making more money than he, he'd be a magician, too. He displayed his so-called magical talent by making the "Champagne" in his goblet disappear in an instant. Passengers gasped. But actually it was ginger ale (and to his credit, the captain let them know that). Irony aside: all 22 captains I have worked with could not stand Champagne. Ginger ale projects the image for the purpose of the toast.
When a Captain is hosting a dinner table for invited guests, the event incorporates a cocktail in a lounge beforehand, wine at dinner and sometimes post-meal liqueurs. However, have any of you who've participated in this rite ever seen the captain drink at each event? Many drink Campari, cranberry juice on ice, Perrier or tomato juice, while others will have that one glass of wine. After dinner, the norm is they will have a coffee. You will not see a captain or other ranking officer drinking outright.
Comments were made about witnessing officers getting completely plastered and singing on stage to the embarrassment of those who walked out. I must state here, please note there are those that do wear an officer's type uniform because they have an officer status -- but are not a ranking officer, nor the ones that have the safety of the ship in their hands. Identifying rank and file is not always so easy. I have listened to passengers saying "hello doctor" to the captain, and been with a radio officer who was greeted as captain -- and with a doctor misidentified as a hotel director.
If you ever do notice that a crewmember is intoxicated, it is best to walk past them, look at their nametag, find out who they really are and report it. Allow those in authority to take control of the matter. All ships have regulations for abuse of alcohol or drugs and they call for immediate dismissal.
Remember, too, that when an officer is off duty, there is another on duty doing what they do. A proper rotation is in full operation so that all crew have a time off. There are replacements onboard that can and do take over when someone is ill or something has happened. This includes the captains; at all times there are at least two and as many as four certified captains onboard, with one being designated "the Master" and the others fully capable to take over the ship at a moment's notice.
This brings to mind that the captain's duty on the bridge is a complex one. He is in charge, and he states the commands. The duty-officer takes the control when the captain deems fit. He himself is on the controls when coming in and out of port, going through dangerous channels and various straits, and any other maneuver that he knows is a must.
A reader recently asked me if, had Celebrity's Mercury been underway, would the pilot have been responsible for the controls? The answer is simple: No. Only the captain or staff captain can maneuver the controls (pilots are there to give information and provide statistics on areas in which the ship is cruising). The captain keeps the controls in his hands; he knows his ship, the pilot knows his waters. The captain listens and takes the suggestions from the pilot; however, if the captain begs to differ, he has that right and when it comes to push and shove, the captain has the ultimate say. Maritime law states that if there is an accident -- even when following the advice of the pilot -- the captain takes blame. Note, though: The only place where this doesn't apply is the Panama Canal.
A statement was made that the crew morale will be better since this captain had been removed. In general, this captain is well liked by both his crew and his passengers. He is kind, friendly and professional. It did not cause the crew to dislike him or to banish him; it hurt. To watch him taken off with handcuffs like a criminal is a shocking sight. He is accused of a misdemeanor, not a federal crime. It was also asked "if'" the crew knew he was drunk, would they turn him in or even dare say something? Yes, they would. Behind the scenes onboard a ship, it can be a very cutthroat atmosphere. With the number of crew and even passengers who are on board 24 hours a day, someone would see and someone would report it. With such a large number of crew on board, who turned him in may never be known.
At this time, it is good for you to know that management of the cruise lines indeed have a random monitoring system that surveys crew onboard from the captain on down. In addition, there is ISM (International Safety Management Code); the purpose of this code is to provide an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention. ISM has a large list of sections to follow in accordance with their guidelines and one key part of it is that a company must have confidence in its office personnel, ship's crew and its captains. With regard, specifically, to the captain's qualifications, the cruise lines must insure that the master is:
Properly qualified for command
Fully conversant with the company's safety management system, and
Given the necessary support so that the master's duties can be safely performed.
With regard to the masters' qualification and competence, it is essential that the company only appoints captains who have the required level of training, hold appropriate internationally recognized certificates and are considered by the company to have the competence to command the type of vessel to which they are to be assigned.
Given the criteria above, it's still possible to make a mistake. Ships have gone aground with a sober captain; an accident indeed can happen. Either way, all scenarios are unique. To individually judge it is difficult even if privy to knowing the inside workings.
No matter what is said, the Mercury incident raises questions from all of us -- and we're entitled to ask them. But understand that it is a rare situation. It is one incident that is being addressed. Actions are taking place.
At the end of the day, this is a reminder that those of us who do not drink may cast the largest stone. For those of us who do drink it is a reminder that no matter the vehicle we use, we take responsibility of the final decision.