Celebrity Cruises made maritime history this week when it announced the appointment of Kate McCue as the master of Celebrity Summit, the cruise industry’s first American female captain. The 37-year-old and 15-year veteran of Celebrity’s sister line, Royal Caribbean, will take the helm of the 91,000-ton ship in August.
Royal Caribbean Cruises LTD certainly has a penchant for breaking records. The news of McCue’s appointment comes just seven months after Celebrity named its first female president and CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, and eight years after Royal Caribbean appointed the industry’s first ever female cruise ship captain, Swedish mariner Karin Stahre-Janson, as the master of the Monarch of the Seas vessel.
“Becoming the first female American captain of a cruise ship has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember,” said McCue in a release. “I look forward to working with an amazing team and the exceptional leadership who bring the Celebrity Cruises vision to life every day.”
This is great honor indeed, but also a great responsibility. As the vessel’s captain, McCue will be in charge of overseeing the safety of Celebrity Summit’s 952 crew members and up to 2,158 guests as the cruise ship sails between the eastern U.S. and Bermuda.
In an industry vastly dominated by men, McCue will likely fall under the microscope of critics, who will be watching her every move, ready to point fingers if she makes even the slightest of mistakes. It doesn’t help that the number and frequency of cruise ship accidents has drastically risen in recent years.
Following the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy back in 2012, which claimed the lives of 32 individuals, questions were raised as to the extent of a captain’s authority to both make and override decisions set forth by the cruise operator. The Concordia accident was the result of then captain Francesco Schettino’s impromptu – and questionable – decision to change the vessel’s course and bring it closer to port, consequently causing the ship to crash into a large rock and capsize off the coast of Giglio, Italy. Though ship captains must follow the course as outlined by the cruise operator, the captain is ultimately in command of the vessel and has the final say. That being said, a captain must notify cruise line authorities if they are deviating from the planned route for any reason. They are not allowed to go rogue on a whim or do whatever they please. This is one of the main reasons why the Concordia accident was so heavily scrutinized.
Another was the fact that Schettino’s choice to abandon ship before all of the Concordia’s passengers and crew were safely evacuated. While it is not an official law, it is considered bad form among seafarers for a captain to abandon ship, as it is the captain’s duty to ensure everything in his or her power is done to save those on board their vessel. Overall, Schettino’s decisions caused both his judgment and the integrity of Costa Cruises – and cruise industry as a whole – to be questioned.
Still, Schettino’s poor actions are not the norm, and should not be seen as a direct reflection of the capabilities or ethics of other cruise ship captains – including McCue. We wish her all the best in her newly-appointed role and safe voyages for her, her crew, and her passengers.