‘Diversity is not only a word for me,’ she told Seatrade Cruise News. ‘At the beginning of my career, I was the only female captain on board. It was very difficult even to find my first job aboard a ship. Now, there are more and more cruise ships open to female officers.
‘The issue is firstly to have equal opportunity to be able to access those jobs. Secondly, we need to start thinking about what women can bring to the industry. We [women] don't want – and at least it is not my goal – to be like a male captain.’
Diversity enriches the experience
She added, ‘Diversity also means diversity in culture, because if we are all Italian or all French or all British and we always agree, this is also a limitation. Diversity means to enrich the experience.’
Melani was born and grew up in Livorno, and began her studies at the Nautical Technical School there before gaining experience as bridge officer onboard different types of cargo ships. In 2010, she took on the role of bridge officer with Regent Seven Seas Cruises and was promoted to master in 2016, leading to her becoming their first female captain and first Italian-born female cruise ship captain.
MSC Group Executive Chairman, cruise Pierfrancesco Vago previously described Melani as a ‘disruptive force’ bringing more diversity and inclusivity to the industry.
Asked about her motivations for working with Explora Journeys, she said, ‘My attention was driven by the Aponte and Vago families. I started to look at the project and the ambition to create something completely new - to look at luxury cruising in a different way.
‘The family has a strong European heritage, and this is something that I believe is unique to Explora Journeys, and we are an international team which is very important to me; I started my career in Italy on cargo ships, then I moved to the US and now I'm back to Europe - but still I'm working for a company that is international.’
Another draw for Melani were innovations incorporated into the vessel, ‘Explora I has systems and technologies that are much more sophisticated than ships I’ve previously sailed with, and these are improving… the brand wants to have ships that may be able to sail for the next 20-25 years.
‘The company is always looking at what it can do to make ships better. That's not something easy to achieve because there is, of course, a lot of limitations sometimes, and compromise. But this is the goal.’
Having built her own eco-home, Melani is additionally encouraged by the line’s commitments on sustainability, ‘Another reason I was so attracted by this project was because Explora wants to change the opinion of some people who don't believe cruise ships can be enviornmentally friendly.’
Melani will go on challenging the status quo; according to her estimates, she is one of only 12 female captains in the cruise ship industry. ‘I have always said, I'm walking steps on a road built by some other women, not by me. And my goal is to keep walking.’