P&O Cruises’ Oceana was one of the vessels taking part in P&O’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Andrew Cooke talked to her master, Captain Angelo Vago, about his career and the ship.
When did your career at sea start? I like the sea, and even if I was born far away from it, it always held an attraction for me. So one day I left my family behind to become ‘a sailor’. Although my father was not happy with me leaving home, he later became very proud of me and my job.
When did you first go to sea and on which ship? I started in 1976 as a deck boy on board a tanker carrying wine. Later on I attended a Nautical College in Savona, Italy.
How has your career developed? I spent a few years on cargo ships as deck boy, ordinary seaman, deck cadet and then third officer and second officer. In 1987 I joined Sitmar, an Italian Cruise company which later merged with P&O. I joined my first ship as second officer and progressed to first officer, safety officer, staff captain, and in 2004 I became captain. In the 175 years of P&O, I am the only Italian Captain so far, something of which I am quite proud.
Which ship did you first take command as Captain? The cruise ship Tahitian Princess, which was being operated by Princess Cruises, and has since become Ocean Princess.
Of the ships that you have served on, do you have a particular favourite? Well, my current vessel is always my favourite ship – it’s my house, my home and my family at sea.
Do you have a particular highlight from your career?I could talk about many incidents, but one that touched my heart in particular is my first wedding at sea. I was celebrating the ceremony and I know I made two people very happy. On P&O ships, Captains often celebrate weddings at sea.
What does an average working day involve for you as Captain of the Oceana? When I am walking around the ship, passengers often ask me ‘Captain, who is driving the ship now you are here?’ I am not permanently on the bridge; although as Captain I am in overall command of the ship, I work closely with several supervisors and managers in order to manage a big ship like Oceana with over 3,000 people on board. I am required on the bridge when the ship is docking and undocking, something that many think the pilot does. The Captain is always responsible for the ship – how can I to leave my beautiful vessel in the hands of a pilot who knows for sure the area and the port, but is not familiar with the equipment and the character of the ship?
How many crew work on board and what are their roles? Oceana has an average of 900 crew on every cruise. There are different roles within the different departments. The biggest is the hotel department, the technical department is the next biggest, and the smallest is the deck department.
What kind of special knowledge do you need for working on this ship? To become a Captain a person needs a lot of patience, understanding and tact. Sometimes it is very difficult to deal with people, crew and passengers, but major problems do not come from the itinerary. Weather has a major bearing on the job, as strong winds are the enemy of big ships like Oceana, which is in effect in the shape of a huge sailing vessel.
What is the most useful innovation that you have seen introduced during your time at sea? The satellite fixing position allows us to know the position of the ship in any kind of weather. Previously, all ships had to sail, often for days, using ‘dead reckoning’, estimating their position according to the skill of the captain, and from old-fashioned bridge equipment like manual speed logs and wind indicators. The other innovation is the ECDIS, Electronic Chart Display, a system which overlaps the nautical chart of an area with the radar picture.
How do you spend your leisure time?I like to spend my leisure time at home. I have a house on the Italian Riviera, and enjoy gardening. During my travels around the world, I like to take exotic cuttings from plants to try to grow them at home.