Kvaerner did not find a ready buyer for Cunard or its polyglot of aging
ships of various sizes and styles. The most likely buyer, P&O Princess,
then the third largest company in the cruise business, reportedly said that
it was not interested. By 1997, things looked bleak for Cunard.
"And that was when Mr. [Micky] Arison [of Carnival Corpopration]
decided that Cunard as a brand was something that he would like to
own. He saved the company, he saved the line, he saved QE2 by buying
[Cunard]. Then, there was some re-branding and there was a
re-distribution of the ships [between Cunard and Carnival subsidiary
Seabourn Cruises]. The Sea Goddesses became Seabourn Goddesses.
The Royal Viking Sun became the Seabourn Sun. The Vistafjord
became the new Caronia. QE2 was still QE2. But now we had Cunard
Line with QE2 and Caronia and Seabourn Line had all the others. What
was a good thing was deciding what we were. We became the liners
and concentrated on the liners."
In addition, Carnival Corporation decided to build a new ocean liner
for Cunard. Wells leaves no doubt that one man was behind this plan,
Carnival Corporation CEO Micky Arison. "He personally drove the
project to deliver this ship. It was his vision to have the most
magnificent transatlantic liner ever built. He was involved from the very
start. He said: 'I have bought the company to maintain the tradition.' He
had come to America with his father on a Cunard liner in 1955 or
whenever it was and he wanted to maintain that tradition. He was
involved straight away with Stephen Paine on the design of the ship. It
was he who made the decision to commit the money for the ship and he
came to the shipyard every two or three months throughout the
construction to have a look to see how it was going and, with his eye to
detail, say: 'I don't like this, change this and adjust that.' He was here for
the delivery. He was here at the beginning and, yes, he took a personal
interest in this ship. This is Mr. Arison's baby."
Although Carnival had the largest fleet of passenger ships in the world
and built ships regularly, it wanted to have the expertise of people who
had actually sailed an ocean liner during the building of what was to
become the Queen Mary 2. So, Wells left his position as Staff Captain
of QE2 in April 2002 and took up residence in St. Nazaire, France
where the new ship was being built. "I was seconded to the Carnival
Corporate ship building team. There were three of us there to start with,
myself, the chief electrical officer and the chief engineer, and our
primary role was to monitor the contract. We were given a copy of the
contract. 'This is what we had contracted to buy. You look at what is
being built and make sure what is being built is what we have contracted
for.' Whenever we were doing an inspection, we were making sure that
what was being delivered complied with the contract."
"So, I was doing ship inspections, steel inspections and equipment
inspections for deck related equipment before it was delivered - - safety
equipment, anchors, windlasses, winches, steering gear. Going out to
the factories where things were being finally tested before they were
being delivered to the yard for putting on the ship."
In addition, Wells was involved in developing the computerized safety
systems for the ship. If one of the sensors detected a fire or safety
problem on the ship, the computers had to know what to do in response.
For example, should the system "stop ventilation or maintain extract on
ventilation and stop supply, shut fire doors, start a smoke extraction
system. . . . I was involved in deciding for each space on the ship what
pre-planned action should be programmed into the system. I was
working very closely with safety designers on how the safety system
would work. It was fascinating, very, very interesting. Just the whole
thing, a very, very interesting 18 months."
"I remember the last month prior to delivery, all the new ship's
company coming in. We were all in three big holiday-like camps around
St Nazaire, being shipped into the yard every day. A huge amount of
training and introducing them to the ship was going on. Also, everything
portable had to be carried into the ship and it was the ship's company
that did it. So, we had this huge team building exercise almost by
chance. And as we delivered the ship, the ship's company just melded
together - - huge pride in bringing this ship out. What makes the ship's
company here at the moment so good is the pride that they have in this
ship and the fact that they are working on this very, very special ship. It
is astounding. I am quite sure that many of the comments that we get
complimenting the ship's staff on their attitude, their attentiveness, their
service, [stems from] the pride that they have in the product."
Princess and P&O
Meanwhile, another major change was taking place in the industry.
Royal Caribbean, the number two player in the cruise industry,
announced plans to merge with P&O Princess. Carnival Corporation
made a pre-emptive offer and won. "I don't think when Carnival bought
Cunard, the plan was to buy P&O Princess. They were quite a large
competitor and I think buying Cunard was buying something to compete
in the UK market. P&O was a huge company but it got broken up into
little bits - - ferries over there, cruise ships over here, and port
infrastructure over here. As soon as the cruise ship thing was set up as a
separate entity, it became liable for a bid."
The acquisition of P&O Princess resulted in a number of changes for
Cunard. One of these was that opportunities for Cunard officers
emerged in the new sister companies' fleets. Thus, after 18 months as
Staff Captain of Queen Mary 2, Wells was offered a post at Princess. "I
went from here [QM2], which was a very new modern ship, to Princess'
newest ship, the Caribbean Princess, their largest ship at that time. I
had one contract there and then I went over to P&O onto smaller ships so
I was able to be promoted, which was great."
"The [Princess] product itself is different - - much less contact
between ship's officers and the passengers. No hosted tables. Cocktail
parties, yes, but there wasn't the close relationship between the
passengers and the ship's officers that there are within Cunard and within
P&O. P&O and Cunard are very similar products. I think the British
market expects that close presence of the ship's officers around the ship
to be seen and to be spoken to."
"It was funny that my first command was Oriana. When I was on QE2
and Oriana was brand new, we were in together in Bali on her maiden
world cruise. I stood with her Staff Captain, Bill Kent, on the quay
when I was Staff Captain on QE2. I had known Bill for a long time as a
Royal Naval Reserve officer and we had a very pleasant day standing on
the quay running the launch tender operation. And we weren't of course
jealous that they had a shiny new ship. We didn't have any new ships
and we did not have any on the horizon. We agreed to differ on the
benefits of having a new ship. Yet, ten years later, there it was my first
"She is 70,000 tons and a very nice ship. The funnel is set well aft, a
buff color funnel. She was the first of their new ships. A German built
ship - - Pappenberg, Meyer Werft. Very traditional inside. I think a lot
of the history from Canberra had been absorbed when they were building
their new ship. There were lots of small public rooms rather than great
big public areas. Perhaps that is also why I felt at home there - - that
she is quite traditional inside and I was used to QE2 over many years."
Style of command
This year, Captain Wells is dividing his time between Queen Mary 2
and P&O's Oceana. "Commodore Bernard Warner is the regular captain
for [Queen Mary 2]. I am mindful of the fact that this ship is
Commodore Warner's ship so I am not trying to make huge changes in the
way that things are done everyday."
One of the reasons that officers are now able to shift between ships of
different companies is that the ships have a common rule book. "The
way the ships are managed is very much through our rules and
regulations which are in a thing called 'Fleet Regulations.' Those fleet
regulations are common across the five different brands, Cunard, P&O,
Princess, Ocean Village and P&O Australia, which are all linked within
the Carnival Corporation. So, [an officer] can go to any one of those
five brands and the same fleet regulations apply to all of those ships.
You have to know the type of ship but I was here [QM2] for her first 18
months of service so I knew the ship already."
Within the governing regulations, captains have their own style of
command. "My style is considerably less formal than the first
commodore, Commodore [Ronald] Warwick, who had perhaps a more
traditional formal style. That is not to say that the requirements are not
still there. What we have to achieve is still there, maybe the style with
which we achieve it [is different]."
Less formality in the command structure reflects the fact that a rigid
military-style command structure is somewhat at odds with the
increasing emphasis on service in the passenger ship industry. "We are
not a military organization and I have a little experience from the
military side of things. I am a reserve officer, I go off with the Royal
Navy for a fortnight every year and there the command structure is very
formal and it is very hierarchical. The idea here on a passenger ship is
that we need to concentrate on guests first. The be all and end all is that
you will put the customer at the center of everything that you do. You put
the customer first and then everything faces the customer. That is
something which I think is very valid."
"At the end of the day, we are all here, whether I am driving the ship,
whether I am maintaining the engines, whether I am frying steaks in the
galley, we are all here to provide a holiday experience. We are all here
to make sure that all passengers, our guests, have a wonderful holiday.
That is the be all and end all. When I do my introduction to the new
ship's company - - I always see all the new ship's company, I do an
induction presentation talk - - that is what I tell them, that is what we are
here for. Our guests are here on their holidays, we are to give them a
good holiday. That is the first thing and everything else comes after."
"We have a White Star training group so we try and bring people in
and give them pure service training for about two weeks before they
actually take over a role. That is all to do with giving them an
orientation to the ship but even more importantly an orientation to this
service ethic that we expect on this ship - - the White Star service that
we are so proud of."
The Retirement of QE2
In November, QE2 will be leaving the Cunard fleet to become a hotel at
Dubai World in the United Arab Emirates. "I spent 12 years of my life
on that ship. I met my wife on the ship. I came to passenger ships
through that ship. I have watched it since I was a small boy when it was
being delivered in '67 and I was 9 years old. When I was a small child,
I had an Airfix model of the ship. There is a lot of history. My son
when he was one, took his first steps unaided on the helicopter deck of
that ship. So, there are all those memories that go with it. Obviously, I
am sad to see it go from service."
The primary reason for QE2's retirement is not any technological
problem with the hull or the engines, or the need to comply with the new
safety at sea regulations that come into effect in 2010. Rather, the
problem flows from the need to attract passengers beyond those who are
ship lovers in order to keep her viable. "She cannot compete in style
with the modern arrangements on modern cruise ships or liners. The
cabins, although they were magnificent cabins for 1967 when they were
built, are different sizes, they are different shapes. She is very dark
inside, portholes as opposed to windows. People expect more.
People's expectations are more now, far higher than they were in the
1960s. It is a different generation. So, she cannot compete. As much as
I love her, I think it is right to allow her to retire gracefully."
"We will try and absorb as many of the ship's company of QE2 into the
remaining two Cunard ships as we can without throwing the existing
ships companies from Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria out. And of
course, we have the bigger empire, the P&O ships, the Ocean Village
ships, the Princess ships, to spread as many of our team through as
possible because we need to hang on to our team. We have an 18 month
gap before [Cunard's new ship] Queen Elizabeth comes out. We are
going to have to man Queen Elizabeth in 18 months. We don't want to
lose all that experience bu
|CARONIA with QUEEN
|CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR
THE RETURN OF
AN INTERVIEW WITH
by Richard H. Wagner
P&O Cruises' ORIANA was to
become Captain Wells' first command.
After serving as Staff Captain on
QUEEN MARY 2, Wells assumed the
same post on CARIBBEAN
Cruise ship interview - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2 - - Captain Christopher Wells - page 1