Cruise Lines Look to Prevent Piracy

Lines take action to safeguard passengers and crew

By: By Marilyn Green

With the April 12 rescue of freighter captain Richard Phillips, the international community has stepped up military coordination to prevent pirate attacks, and cruise lines are responding by working with international forces to assure the safety of their passengers.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said its member lines are following the advice from the Maritime Security Centre, Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) that ships should avoid transiting within 600 nautical miles of the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean; this limit has increased from 200 miles away a few years ago. Cruise lines are coordinating with military forces patrolling in the region and following international guidelines concerning regular contact with military forces, speed, maneuvering, and additional lookouts. CLIA says its members all have thorough security protocols in place including anti-piracy measures.

Pirates have generally targeted cargo ships, which offer financial opportunities both in the cargo itself and in kidnapping and ransoming the crew. However, extensive publicity followed the attacks fended off by Seabourn Spirit in 2005 and Oceania’s Nautica in November 2008. This year, MSCHOA established the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC), where naval and air military forces are deployed to protect shipping. Ships are also encouraged to go through the IRTC in groups based on their cruising speed.

During a recent report to shareholders, Carnival Corporation COO Howard Frank said the company is working with the U.S. military and British Ministry of Defence to protect its passengers and crew from attacks. He said Carnival brands are not making any itinerary changes; the closest they have come to date is when Seabourn Spirit bypassed a scheduled call in Salalah, Oman, not because of danger there but because of timing, so the Spirit could join a convoy as suggested by the international naval force in the Gulf of Aden.

MSC Cruises also has made a few changes to the route taken by MSC Melody on its three-week cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy. The new route is about 400 miles longer than the previous itinerary, maintaining a greater distance from the coast of Somalia. To allow for the extra time at sea, MSC Melody will no longer call at the Egyptian port of Safaga; however, the ship will continue to call at Aqaba, Jordan and Sokhnan, Egypt, allowing guests to enjoy excursions to those country’s ancient wonders. The new itinerary also offers more time in the Seychelles with an overnight stop at Port Victoria. The overall duration of the cruise remains unchanged at 22 days and 21 nights.

At press time, Princess Cruises’ Tahitian and Royal Princess had just gone through the Gulf of Aden safe and sound, and Oceania, which is not planning itinerary changes, noted that the recent escalation of piracy took place off the east coast of Somalia, far from the Gulf of Aden.

Cunard Line has no ships in the region currently and Silversea Cruises has no plans at this point to change, nor does Regent Seven Seas Cruises, although all are monitoring the situation closely. Likewise, Costa Crociere confirms that the situation is not impacting their activities and the regularly scheduled routes are continuing; likewise, the Royal Caribbean/Celebrity/Azamara family has not made changes and is using the IRTC.

“Our ship will be speaking to the military forces in the Gulf of Aden by telephone each day throughout our time there, and we can reach them at a moment’s notice, should we encounter any problems,” Michael Sheehan, associate vice president, corporate communications, stated.

Holland America Line, too, has not made any itinerary changes at this time, but will continue to monitor the situation and, if required, make alterations well in advance of any scheduled sailing.

Variety Cruises, which does not sail in the Red Sea until November, has made no changes at this time either.

On the Europa cruise from Dubai to Limassol in April, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises arranged to take passengers off the ship for the transit through the Gulf of Aden.

“We have arranged for a deluxe on-shore-program for our passengers instead of two days at sea,” managing director Sebastian Ahrens stated. “The passengers have been offered a three-day overnight stay in a luxury hotel in Muscat/Oman including full board while the Europa is passing the Gulf of Aden. The passengers will re-board the ship in Hodeihah, and the ship will follow its scheduled itinerary. Needless to say, the additional costs were not passed on to the passengers.”

Although several agents said their clients have expressed concern, there have been few cancellations. Tom Baker, president of CruiseCenter in Houston Texas, said the piracy concern “has been a non-event so far for Gulf crossings.” He said his company is still selling cruises that pass through the area, although he feels that the dynamics will change now that the pirates have made a specific threat against Americans.

Governments including the U.S. are also approaching what they regard as the root of he problem: the lack of central government on land after two decades of civil war; meanwhile, the cruise lines are working with one another and with international shipping to reinforce their security measures.