Ships Boost Stringent Security

Cruise lines, on high alert since 9/11, still increase checks

By: Theresa Norton Masek

The cruise industry, which has remained on high alert since Sept. 11, added more security measures last week as war appeared to be all but inevitable.

“We have been at the very highest level of security preparedness for the past 18 months,” said Lynn Martenstein, vice president of corporate communications for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Still, in recent days, we have added even more measures, from additional security personnel to increased screening procedures.”

Overall, security is of the highest concern to the cruise lines, said Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines.

“We have a great stake in the safety and security of our passengers and crew,” he said, “because the future of our industry depends on it.”

The res lines were ringing with cancellations, but Holland America Line-Westours CEO Kirk Lanterman said the number was “not inordinate.”

“I’m surprised, but maybe it’s still coming,” he said. “Bookings have been slow for a long time, but we’re still just booking along.”

Some companies are increasing onboard access to CNN and other television news so passengers won’t feel disconnected from events.

And RCCL said it would increase religious services onboard. “It’s normal for people to want to congregate with other people in a religious setting in times like this,” Martenstein said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has increased patrols of ports, waterways and coastlines, boosted the number of escorts for passenger ships and the number of armed marshals deployed to ensure smooth arrivals and departures. In addition, divers are continuing to check ports for underwater threats.

Since 9/11 the cruise lines have maintained stringent security measures, including comprehensive screening programs that far exceed current airport standards.

“We screen all provisions, materials, everything going onto a ship, using X-ray machines, metal detectors, dog teams and humans,” Martenstein said. Most lines now also require passengers and crew members to present identification cards, which have magnetic strips carrying digital photos, to prevent unauthorized people from boarding ships at port stops.

Also, manifests of all passengers and crew members are reviewed by federal authorities.

“We have a military officer serving as a security officer on every ship, overseeing an experienced security force,” Martenstein said. “We work very closely with the port authorities, Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization Service, customers, FBI and Interpol. There are lots of phone calls, lots of meetings and lots of information-sharing.”

Many cruise lines that moved ships from the Mediterranean to North America after Sept. 11 and then had to return them when demand rebounded are taking a wait-and-see attitude. But it is likely that itineraries including Turkey or Greece will be altered.

One company, Oceania Cruises, already has changed two open-jaw itineraries to avoid turnarounds in Istanbul. But the line, which has yet to operate its first cruise, attributed the change to what it called “unprecedented demand” for western Mediterranean voyages.

Holland America Line and its sister company, Windstar Cruises, have four ships scheduled to sail in the Mediterranean this summer. “We feel confident that they’ll be there, otherwise we would’ve pulled them by now,” Lanterman said. But the Prisendam, originally scheduled for the Mediterranean, will sail to Alaska from San Francisco this summer, avoiding a repositioning cruise.

Princess Cruises says it is meeting customer demand by keeping the Grand Princess in the Caribbean. But the Golden Princess still has a 12-day Med itinerary.

“As of yet, we’ve not taken any further decision to make any changes in our deployment, although we continue to monitor events very closely,” said a Princess spokeswoman, Julie Benson .

RCCL plans to operate three Royal Caribbean and two Celebrity ships in Europe this summer.

“We do not, at the present time, anticipate moving any of these ships out of Europe,” Martenstein said. “That said, if the near-certain war unfolds, it may be necessary to make minor adjustments to the itineraries of some of the ships, which could be changing a port in Turkey.”