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Chief engineer Peter Nilsson, right, with two other ship engineers standing aside the Viking Star.

JD Lasica / Special to Cruiseable

Chief engineer Peter Nilsson, right, with two other ship engineers standing aside the Viking Star.

How a cruise ship runs: A talk with Viking Star's chief engineer

A Q&A about water purification, ship propulsion, environmental issues & more

What does it take to run a modern-day cruise ship? During my recent 10-day cruise aboard Viking Star from Istanbul to Venice, I spent some time in the crew quarters talking with the ship's chief engineer, Peter Nilsson. 

In this series:

Here's the final part of our series, in which Nilsson discusses water purification, the ship's propulsion, environmental issues and other matters he's responsible for. 

JD Lasica: How long have you been the chief engineer of Viking Star?

Peter Nilsson: I was here three days before the first sailing of the ship in May. 

Tell us about your background.

I’ve worked on  various cruise lines like Seabourn, Norwegian and Star Cruises.

What goes into being the chief engineer of Viking Star?

Basically I am in charge of what goes on here in terms or water, air conditioning and propulsion. So all the technical systems are under my management. I have a chief electrician, chief engineer, refer engineer and the first engineer under me as associates — they're my close aides.

What does it take to keep fresh water flowing on a 930-passenger vessel?  

We have two fresh water producers that can each make 300 tons of fresh water in 24 hours, so that's 600 tons per day.

Chief engineer Peter Nilsson in his office in the crew quarters of Viking Star.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableChief engineer Peter Nilsson in his office in the crew quarters of Viking Star.

So what's the upshot? Do you have to go and get new water in every port?

It depends. When we have very few days at sea, we take water from different sources. We take water from the port. There is a lot of treatment and chlorination to make sure the water is pure and safe. We take water samples and analyze the water before it is put into use. It goes in a storage tank and then we analyze it and then we use it. We are always on the safe side.

In some of these ports, we’re told to drink bottled water, since the water in the port in not safe. The water that is filtered on the ship is absolutely 100% safe?

Yes.

Does air conditioning come into play on a November cruise?

Yes, in some areas you need the air conditioning. In the control room, for example, if we didn’t have AC there, it would be 40-55 degrees more because there is so much electrical stuff there. And also we have server rooms and a lot of other areas that need to be kept cooler.

I spoke with one ship executive who mentioned that one guest flushing the wrong thing down the toilet affected 30 different cabins. So all the cabins are interconnected?

Basically each toilet is called a rags snag. It’s a device inside the pipes, like a hook, to prevent things from spreading into the system. So 99 times out of 100 we actually only get the clogging at the toilet itself. If we didn't have these rags snags, it can get into the system and we can have a tremendous problem.

Tell me more about the ship's propulsion. 

On board this ship we have Nissan electric machinery. A Nissan motor drives a big generator that goes into a busbar, a distribution center for electricity. Take a look at this screen,  this is the automation system, right now we have one generator running, connected to this buss board. And then it fans out to the propulsion machinery: the thrusters, the AC, everything here is on the 6,600 board. Then you have the transformers, that goes to the galley and the engine room.

Inside the Engine Room on Viking Star.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableInside the Engine Room on Viking Star.

And this screen will tell you if there are any problems.

Yes, I have everything here, each engine I can check on.

I see a lot of green, so that’s good. When the captain wants to increase speed, is there anything he needs to do to communicate with the engine room? Or it’s all done automatically?

Well, we plan ahead, before we start the sea voyage, so we know what speed the captain will need and we decide we’re going to run the three engines first, and when we reach the target, we go down to two engines. It’s optimized, it should always be the highest load possible to get the best combustion, the best ways to use energy.

What's the maximum speed of this ship? 

She can do, I think, 19 knots.

But you don’t usually hit that speed.

No. Yesterday, we did 17 knots when we left the port.

Monitors inside the Engine Room on Viking Star.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableMonitors inside the Engine Room on Viking Star.

I wanted to ask about the environment — Viking has a good reputation  for being green. Can you give me an example or two of what goes into your operations that are ecologically friendly?

We have these same wastewater treatment that you have in shore-based facilities in modern society. We have filtration systems in place so that everything is broken down and what goes into the waters is clean. It's called Scanship filtration.

Do you get out to speak with guests?

We have a presentation on every cruise where we meet the guests. There’s not too much here. At Seabourn, there was much more. I prefer it this way, because we are very busy.

What do guests ask you when they talk to you?

They ask me about the engines and how things work and how we filter the water.

Do you get off the ship typically during a cruise?

Yes, a couple of times. I work 10 weeks on and 10 weeks off, so if I have a chance I can go on shore and have dinner or do something relaxing.

What is your favorite port?

It depends on what part of the world you are in. Rio de Janeiro is a nice place. But here in the Med, Split (in Croatia) is a nice place. Seeing I’m from Sweden, we come to Stockholm and I can meet my sister who lives there

Any other things you wish people knew about your job?

Yes, you need 10-15 years experience to hold this kind of position. I have been at sea for 31 years. The most important thing for me is the experience you have from previous vessels. You cannot read about these in the books, you need to have experience doing it for a while, to be able to face the people, to lead your crew and have good communication. That’s the key.

JD Lasica
I'm co-founder, Editor and chief cat herder at Cruiseable. Follow your cruise bliss to any land where it may lead. Let's connect! I'm @jdlasica on Twitter.

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