Engineering a bon voyage

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Those with even passing knowledge of maritime roles might fairly assume that Stavros Zanikos’s domain is the engine room – and it is. Zanikos is a chief engineer for Celebrity Cruises. Every ship in RCL’s fleet has one.

But it doesn’t stop there, with engines and pumps and related technical systems.

The chief engineer is also responsible for safety systems, including lifeboat inspections. And HVAC, as well as refrigeration, water treatment systems and bilge disposal. Also, maintenance and repair in cabins for guests and crew, including toilet systems, upholstery, tiles and paint. And varnish. Varnishing was the most recent addition to the list, which also covers onboard public spaces and rooms.

“So things have changed,” Zanikos says of the time since his 1988 graduation from the Marine Engineering Academy of Chios in his native Greece, nearly 25 years of which has been as a chief engineer with Celebrity.

There are division heads to oversee the individual categories of, for instance, HVAC or hotel operations. But ultimately, as responsibility rolls uphill, the chief engineer is almost coequal to the ship’s captain.

“Every three, four years it’s something more for the chief engineer,” Zanikos says with a chuckle. “Most probably the engineering team did a good job so they give us more responsibility.”

“But the biggest focus at the end of the day is safety. Second is the budget. You can make everything perfect in your ship, but if the budget is not in line, it can be a disaster for the chief engineer.”

Still, engines make the chief engineer’s title, and on a cruise ship like those in the RCL fleet there can be four to six below decks. Whether for maintenance or repair, when one of them needs work it must be done while the ship continues to operate. Take it out of service, and customers miss their vacations. Doing the work in service can be accomplished, but it requires a well-choreographed dance.

“We know the itineraries, we know the speeds, we know the people,” Zanikos says. “And we sit down together and find the gaps when an engine can be out without interrupting the ship’s operation.”

Those gaps are usually when the ship doesn’t have to travel at high speed for a time period that will allow both necessary work and testing once it’s done. That involves restarting the engine according to the manufacturer’s “running-up” program for operating it in several phases, under low load for a short time to high for longer, before returning it to service.

Zanikos last served on Celebrity Reflection, but most recently has been working under wraps with RCL’s newbuild team on the creation of the line’s newest vessels for the yet-to-be revealed Project Edge.

One of those ships, he says, will be his.