On my cruise from Singapore to Darwin aboard Silversea’s flagship Silver Muse I was immediately impressed with the first-class service provided by the crew and also how smoothly everything worked on-board. Even arriving at or leaving a port was so smooth that on two occasions I did not realise we had left until we were at sea. This got me wondering what was actually behind all this serenity. Silver Muse is, after all, a complex six-star hotel aboard a 40,000-tonne ship — plenty of scope for things to go wrong, but nothing did!
To sate my curiosity, I was privileged to speak to both the captain, Marco Sangiacomo and hotel director, Flavio Gioia. Captain Marco is responsible for the command, operation and safety of the ship, guests and crew by ensuring that maritime protocols, environmental policies and safety regulations are strictly adhered to. He is the third most senior and experienced captain in the Silversea fleet with 16 years as captain and four years prior as second officer.
Prior to that, he had 12 years aboard container ships. His favourite cruising grounds are Europe in summer and Asia. Captain Marco relishes the different cultures and Asia offers a lot of diversity in a small space. He always recommends that his crew have some cargo experience, and most do, as on those ships you need to be versatile and get to understand everything about the workings of the vessel, port control, immigration and customs. There are no departments to delegate to, so it is a good apprenticeship.
As hotel director, Flavio Gioia commands and directs all hotel personnel through the management of department heads, with the overall responsibility of ensuring the ultimate Silversea cruise experience for guests. He manages a diverse multi-outlet operation with a multi-million-dollar budget. Gioia daily walks all decks of the ship ensuring the crew are content and in tune with the Silversea mission statement “to provide our passengers with the very best cruise experience”.
I learned that of the 411 crew aboard Silver Muse, approximately 154 or 38 per cent, are ‘back of house’. This includes 36 engineering crew, 65 galley crew and 36 deckhands.
To me, the back of house crew are like ‘Silver ghosts’. They are the dedicated, but mostly invisible people, that work around the clock so we passengers enjoy a unique and unforgettable travel experience.
During my cruise, I had a small issue with the air-conditioning controls in my suite, but after one phone call it was fixed in less than 20 minutes and I had two follow up calls to ensure I was happy. Oh, I do wish I could get that service onshore!
All officers are European but there are 46-50 nationalities among the crew requiring officers to be multilingual. Far from being a problem, this diversity of nationalities is a strength according to Captain Marco and Gioia.
First, there is greater respect and appreciation of other cultures and means of doing things, and second, there is less probability of cliques forming amongst a particular nationality. The crew are encouraged to greet each other at every opportunity and engender the ‘family’ culture of Silversea.
This multicultural mix not only makes for a better passenger experience but adds diversity and a personal touch to crew life. Every crew member is away from family, but once on-board is accepted into the Silversea ‘family’ — their home away from home. A happy crew makes for a happy cruise. No point having a luxury ship if the crew are not happy.
Silversea has the highest staff retention in the cruise industry with 65 per cent of staff retained and many with 10-plus years with the company. Another reason that the crew is content is that they have excellent quarters with senior staff all having their own cabins. Good staff benefits including superannuation, competitive salary and potential to earn a free cruise as well as good rosters, add to the job appeal. The captain and officers generally work a three-month on/off roster, senior crew– four months on, two months off and junior crew — six months on, two months off.
Whilst crew do rotate between other ships in the Silversea fleet, 60 per cent of officers and technical crew return to Silver Muse as a core crew to retain technical knowledge on board. Although all crew must have prior experience and the necessary accreditation, Silversea ensures that all crew are trained and update their credentials at least every five years.
To enhance crew morale, once a month there is a new crew welcome and at times, they even clear a deck for a short crew-only party. There was one such party on my last night aboard. This in no way interfered with the passengers owing to the layout of the ship.
The ship is constantly maintained by the engineering crew. The chief engineer is responsible for the entire technical operation and equipment on-board, including engineering, electrical and mechanical services. He and his team have a strong ability to detect and identify the cause of any machinery faults. Every five years the ship will be slipped to dry dock and undergo a thorough overhaul. Since Silver Muse is just two years young it will be constantly on the move for the next three years.
Captain Marco explained that the electrical generators (of which there are four, 6.6kV three-phase alternators powered by a Wärtsilä 9L38 diesel engine), are the heart of the ship. These power absolutely everything from lighting, galley, air-conditioning, water desalination, propulsion and communications. If all four generators failed, then the ship would be totally reliant upon its smaller 440-volt three-phase generator. This would keep essential services operating, but not propulsion, which is achieved by two 8,500kW, 152rpm Wärtsilä diesel-electric engines, two 1,000kW four-blade bow thrusters, and one 1,500kW four-blade stern thruster.
The propulsion is “traditional diesel-electric” with a traditional shaft line. One of the four generators is a spare and, if required, the engineering crew can overhaul a generator in two weeks while the ship is underway — passengers would be totally unaware this was happening.
Silver Muse is the most energy-efficient and technologically advanced ship in the fleet and the best ship Captain Marco has commanded. I was amazed that the crew can turn Silver Muse around within its own 212m length unaided, as they did when we entered the busy commercial port of Semarang, Indonesia.
Provisioning is one of the greatest challenges for the crew. Provisions, including food and wine, have to be ordered three months in advance so goods can be sourced, packed and shipped by commercial cargo transport to hopefully be in port ahead of Silver Muse. Sometimes, adverse weather or a cargo ship breakdown can mean this does not happen, although it’s rare. In these instances, Silver Muse provisioning crew must source what substitutes they can locally. This is not always easy in developing countries.
The executive chef leads and manages the 65 strong galley crew to deliver high quality, efficient, individualised and technically excellent food for guests and crew. He has a minimum of seven years’ experience in the role of executive chef at an international five-star or Michelin-star establishment.
A chef on-board is involved in all operations (breakfast, lunch, dinner) room service if needed, or extra buffet. The galley crew prepare in excess of 3,000 meals per day from breakfast at dawn to canapes late into the evening. The hours are long and it’s seven days per week while on-board, but the rewards are that Silversea enjoys the highest return rate of passengers in the competitive ultra-luxury cruise industry and its no wonder, the meals are fabulous!
The next time you enjoy a wonderful cruise with Silversea, spare a thought for the many ‘Silver ghosts’ that work tirelessly to make everything work so well, seamlessly, all the time. They certainly made an indelible impression on me.