Students spend time on the simulator

On a Thursday afternoon at the French Maritime Institute in Le Havre, three students certified as officers were talking about their careers aboard cruise ships. The three students have sailed as deck officers and were now in training to receive their chief mate licenses.

“It is currently very difficult in France to get in touch with the cruise companies,” said Stephanie Hertenstein, a teacher at the school, who oversees the international program, including maritime studies. There is also the fact that French officers are few and far between aboard cruise ships.

“I spent six months working aboard as a second officer, I did not meet any French officers,” said Edouard Gaide, recently off a contract on Swan Hellenic. He added he hopes to return soon to a passenger ship as an officer.

So while the cruise industry is growing and sourcing passengers in France, French seamen are still pretty much nonexistent. French officers are mainly restricted to Ponant, with a fleet of small expedition ships flying the French flag.

The trend is hopefully changing, as a new training program launched in Le Havre is aimed at sending officers to cruise ships.

“Up to now, we have trained students to work mainly for the French merchant fleet,” Hertenstein said. “But the new program is preparing students to work in an English environment and includes all the certifications needed.”

The program has been welcomed by the port.

“It is a great way of integrating the maritime college into our local cruise industry,” said Valerie Conan, director of cruise for the tourist office. “It is very important to have this school training cruise ship officers, as it shows how the industry is growing in France.”

Keeping with maritime traditions, Conan was named godmother of the cruise training program.

Hertenstein noted the cruise training program was picking up popularity, as students saw the opportunity to expand their knowledge and training.

And in November, the school hosted an international maritime fair that included a number of cruise companies.

Even if the fair was not especially devoted to cruising, the industry was one of the main topics of the day.