Kevin Sheehan (seated, center), Norwegian's CEO and president, meeting with crew onboard.During his five years at the helm of Norwegian Cruise Line, CEO and President Kevin Sheehan said he has worked continuously to improve the work environment aboard the ships.

“Today, many crew have single cabins,” he said. “They can lock their doors and have some privacy. When I first came aboard and visited some of the older ships, I recall five and six female crew sleeping in bunk beds in a cabin, and the only privacy they had was if they put a towel in front of their bed. It was an eye opener for me and something I wanted to change.

“We have since gotten rid of the older ships; we have shortened the longest contracts; and as we are building new ships, we are able to continue to improve the living quarters, and offer more job and career opportunities.”

Norwegian announced in August that it was the first major cruise line to be certified in compliance with the requirements of the Maritime Labor Convention that went into force Aug. 20.

Sheehan said he visits the ships once a month and spends two days onboard, including meeting and having lunch with the crew, during which he asks them “what we can do better; what they are not happy with.”

He explained: “We heard that it was expensive to call home, so we have made it more affordable. I think we are best in class in connecting costs for crew. During the night when there is low usage by passengers, but it may be daytime on the other side of the globe, we are offering internet services to crew at attractive costs.

“I also used to worry about crew on the last day of the month when they were paid in cash. They either had to store the money somewhere or pay high fees at Western Union to send it home. We have introduced a debit card and crew now receives their pay on the card and no longer in cash. They can send money home from the card and use it as a credit card for shopping as well.

“Food is another area we have focused on, but it is not easy with so many different nationalities aboard. We have tried to emulate as much as possible what we offer passengers in the Garden Café.”

Each ship has a human resource person, who is a high-ranking officer, according to Sheehan, and with a direct connection to shore. There are also several trainers on each ship for skill and service training, in addition to safety training.

“At the end of the day, we are making life better for our crew, and it is not a selfish element from our side, but by making the crew happier, we retain them, it is better for us and it is better for them. With more new ships coming, they will have more career opportunities when they stay with us,” Sheehan said.

>> Also in this section: Issues: Harassment and Bullying

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Fall 2013