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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cruise-ship training moving here

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

NCL's Pride of Aloha gives passengers a long look at Kaua'i's picturesque Na Pali coast. The cruise line also is considering having some shipboard work done from shore on the islands where ships call.

NCL Corp. Ltd. photo

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Pride of Aloha
• Began interisland cruises: July 2004
• Passenger capacity: 2,002, double occupancy
• Crew: 835
• Length: 853 feet
• Speed: 23 knots

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Pride of America
• Began interisland cruises: July 2005
• Passenger capacity: 2,144, double occupancy
• Crew: 897
• Length: 926 feet
• Speed: 22 knots

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Pride of Hawai‘i
• Begins interisland cruises: June 2006
• Passenger capacity: 2,466, double occupancy
• Crew: 952
• Length: 965 feet
• Speed: 25 knots

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NCL America, operator of the state's only year-round interisland cruises, plans to move its training to Hawai'i from Maryland to help reduce costs and improve opportunities for local employees.

NCL will begin making the changes this fall, said Robert Kritzman, executive vice president and managing director of NCL America's Hawai'i operations.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense for us to continue to send people to Maryland to then come back to Hawai'i to begin work," Kritzman said in an interview yesterday.

All NCL America employees now undergo a three- to four-week training program at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md. The course includes safety training required to get merchant mariner documents, job skills, customer service and hospitality training, and Native Hawaiian history and culture.

Details on Hawai'i training, including how many people would be hired to conduct training, still have to be worked out, NCL officials said.

Local NCL officials are looking at using a facility run by the Seafarers International Union in Kalaeloa for crew members to get Merchant Mariners certification. NCL used that facility before moving training to Maryland in August 2004.

Kritzman said NCL is also talking with community colleges about providing culinary and other training programs. Another key issue NCL has to deal with is providing housing for people in training, Kritzman said.

Kritzman also said the company is looking at having some shipboard jobs, such as cleaning, laundry and engine maintenance, filled from shoreside positions. A transition could begin as early as this fall, he said.

"We're looking at having permanent, full-time staff on each of the islands that would work on the ships during the day and then go home at night," he said. "It certainly will broaden our employment pool, because it's difficult for many people that are married and with families to work on board the ship."

Kritzman made the remarks ahead of the May 28 arrival of NCL America's third and final cruise ship dedicated to interisland tours.

The Pride of Hawai'i, NCL America's largest cruise ship, will arrive on Kaua'i May 28. It is the last of NCL's three U.S.-flagged vessels to sail seven-day cruises around the Islands.

Creating a full-time staff on each island to service ships wouldn't have been possible with just one or two vessels, Kritzman said. But with three U.S.-flagged ships touring the Islands, a ship will be ported on Kaua'i, the Big Island and Maui six days a week.

NCL America's Hawai'i operations have come a long way since its first U.S.-flagged ship, the Pride of Aloha, began interisland cruises in summer 2004. The Pride of Aloha suffered from passenger complaints largely about cleanliness, food quality and waits for meals that escalated about a month after the ship began sailing. NCL partly blamed problems on a lack of experience among crew members.

Since then, the company has expanded its training program and stepped up recruitment efforts. The number of crew members has grown from about 850 on the Pride of Aloha in 2004 to more than 3,000 now with the arrival of the Pride of Hawai'i.

Nearly 30 percent of the employees on the ships are from Hawai'i and make up the largest group of workers, Kritzman said. Shore-based staff in NCL's Honolulu office has grown from about 20 employees in early 2004 to roughly 100, he said.

Overall, Kritzman said, he's feeling even more confident about the third ship.

About 40 percent of the crew aboard the Pride of Hawai'i are experienced workers from the first two ships, he said. Preparing for employee turnover is typical with a new ship, Kritzman said, and NCL has about 400 additional employees in training.

"That's just a function of hiring roughly 1,000 new employees all at once," Kritzman said. "Some of them don't like the job, some of them we don't think are working out. ... So we have more people in the pipeline to be prepared for that."

Kritzman said the turnover rate is "comparable to the hospitality industry generally" but declined to give a specific figure, saying it's hard to gauge until the work force is stabilized. Last summer, he said the annualized turnover rate for the Pride of Aloha was more than 50 percent during the first couple of months of service but improved to about 30 percent to 40 percent.

The turnover has reflected a large challenge in launching U.S.-flagged ships, which must employ U.S. workers and follow U.S. labor laws. At least 75 percent of the crew must be U.S. citizens, with the remaining 25 percent permanent U.S. residents, or green-card holders. Kritzman said 8 percent of the crew aboard the three ships are green-card holders.

Kritzman said operations on the Pride of Aloha and the Pride of America are doing well, with ships running at full capacity.

"The ships have settled into a routine, and customer service feedback is good," Kritzman said. "Ninety-plus percent rate their experience as good, very good or excellent.

"Our costs are higher than anticipated, our revenue is a little bit higher than anticipated, and the margin is about on plan."

Once the last of the three ships is under way, the company can turn its attention elsewhere, Kritzman said.

"It also allows us to look at some innovative ways of doing things and managing the ships. ... Now we can start being creative with some of the things we can do to reduce our costs and make the operation that much more efficient."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.