Cruise Industry

There is just one African American female cruise ship captain in the world

The cruise industry is perhaps one of the most inclusive when it comes to the diversity of its bridge crews and executive teams, but more progress is needed this International Women’s Day.


Seven Seas Mariner, pictured here in Alaska, has one of the highest proportions of female officers and managers of any cruise ship.

On International Women’s Day most major companies like to put out a press release affirming their commitment to inclusivity by pointing out the number of women they employ, or the high-powered roles that they occupy.

Emirates Airline for instance, published a video on its YouTube channel applauding its all-female flight crew, which was a big step-up from last year when they put out a release celebrating their commitment to female empowerment because they employ more than 29,000 women, 44% of its workforce (the vast majority as flight attendants and not pilots, managers or executives).

Of the 4,000 or so pilots flying for Emirates, less than 70 are female, and there is not a single woman in the leadership team of the Emirates Group.

But let’s not pick on Emirates Airlines, which the backbone of the Arabian Gulf cruise market in many ways, flying in the vast majority of the city’s international cruise tourists to board cruise ships at Dubai Cruise Terminal, all of which are captained by men.

Because the cruise industry is as guilty as Emirates Airline when it comes to inclusion of women in high-powered roles, especially on the operational side of the industry.

Some cruise lines are doing better than others, such as Regent Seven Seas, which owns Mariner. Pictured below is the female-heavy executive team aboard the ship. From left: Chief Housekeeper Ana Liza Balucan, Destination Manager Sam Thompson, Captain Serena Melani,Cruise Director Margaret Scoggins, 2nd Officer Sladana Grbic, Erica Lewis Charter Manager RSSC Headquarters (Image courtesy Landry Kling).


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The very first woman to captain a cruise ship was Captain Karin Stahre-Janson, of Sweden, according to Conde Naste Traveler. She was appointed to the role just 11 years ago in 2017. And of the 270 or so cruise ships currently in operation for mainstream cruise lines, just nine are commanded by female captains and of that group only one, Belinda Bennett, is African American.

Captain Bennett commands the 148-passenger Wind Star for Windstar Cruises.


Captain Bennett on the bridge of Wind Star.

She was appointed to the role in 2016, after spending more than a decade working up the operational ranks at the cruise line, which is an important fact to consider given that, according to various estimates, around 20% of the current bridge crews in the global cruise industry are made up of women.

This is certainly the case at Celebrity Cruises, which was also the first publicly-traded cruise line in the world to have a female CEO. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo took the helm of Celebrity Cruises in December 2014 after three decades of chipping away at the glass ceiling. Incidentally, her cruise line also employs the first ever female bridge officer from West Africa, Nicholine Tifuh Azirh. Lutoff-Perlo and Azirh are pictured below.


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Since 2014, things have changed rapidly in terms of the number of female executives within the cruise industry. Since then a number of women have become president or CEO of some of the world’s biggest cruise lines.

Edie Rodriguez, was made President & CEO, of Crystal Cruises in 2015 after working her way up to senior executive at luxury lines Cunard, Seabourn, and Azamara Club Cruises.

Christine Duffy began serving as President of Carnival Cruise Line (the biggest of them all) in February 2015, after spending four years as president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade association representing the US $35 billion global cruise industry.

Jan Swartz was made President of Princess Cruises in 2013, after more than 15 years working for the line. She is now Group President of Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia, which is also part of the Carnival Corporation behemoth that owns Duffy’s Carnival Cruise Line.

Within the same organization, Ann Sherry is Executive Chairman of Carnival Australia.

Much progress has been made on the land-side of the industry then, and hopefully in the years to come we’ll see more women making waves at sea.

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