Staying Afloat in Troubled Waters

Mark Conroy

Portree, Scotland – Aboard the Seven Seas Voyager: The worst part of Regent Seven Seas Cruises President Mark Conroy's job is when the phone rings in the middle of the night. It happened at 1 am this past March 19th.

"Mark? This is Dag," Conroy recalled the conversation beginning. The head of the highly rated small luxury cruise line knew it wasn't going to be good news. Captain Dag Dvergastein was on the bridge of the line's premier cruise ship the Voyager as it was departing Singapore on a segment of its world cruise.

Dag told Conroy that his ship had accidentally run over some unmarked fishing line which became caught in one of the propulsion pods. Later, Conroy would relate that the $12 worth of fishing line would cost his company $20 million.

An accident like that could have bankrupted other small cruise lines. But Conroy worked tirelessly to keep his customers satisfied and his cruise line above the water.

It's not uncommon for boats to run over fishing lines. Ships like the Voyager that use propulsion pods instead of fixed propellers have special cutters to break the lines before they do any damage. But Conroy said the cutters were scraping the propellers so when the Voyager went into its regularly scheduled dry dock in December, the cutters were modified and spaced farther apart. It turned out to be a costly decision.

The newly modified cutters didn't do their job. The fishing line took one of the Voyager's two propulsion pods out of service, reducing the ship's speed to only 13 knots, and forcing long and expensive repairs which would have to be done soon in a dry dock. The world cruise would end early and the disappointed passengers who had paid a minimum $50,000 each had to be put at ease.

The ship was on its way from Singapore to Dubai carrying 265 world cruisers, the company's best and highest paying customers, plus almost another 300 passengers. Conroy personally took charge of damage control. He authorized a full refund to all cruisers on that segment, "Otherwise, they'd kill me," he feared. Conroy personally flew to the ship to explain the problem to the passengers. And he supervised dealing with the logistical nightmare that was to follow.

Conroy had to come up with alternatives for the passengers on board and those scheduled to join the ship in Dubai. He also had to figure out how to get his crippled ship safely through the pirate ridden Gulf of Aden. "It's like putting up a sign that says 'Hijack me,'" he said.

It was decided the Voyager would detour to Rome where it would end its world cruise early and go into dry dock for repairs. The $3-4 million repair bill would be the least of Conroy's problems. Getting the passengers home, keeping them happy, canceling a month's worth of cruises and offering compensation would cost about $15 million more.

Conroy and his staff made flight and hotel arrangements to send some passengers home early and others to Hong Kong where they could join another Regent ship and finish out the world cruise days they would have spent on the Voyager. Another big problem was the luggage. World cruise take a lot of luggage for 100 days at sea and their fare includes free shipping of their bags from home to and from the ship.

Conroy had to manage that considerable expense. He had 1,000 bags to ship back to passengers' homes. When their usual luggage handling company wanted $300 a bag, Conroy found someone to do it for $125. "I think that guy's got a future with us," he said later.

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