Are Cruise Ships Safe From Pirate Attacks?
Going on a cruise is a popular holiday choice for people worldwide. However, cruise ships, in theory, are valuable and appealing targets for pirates. Onboard, there are many valuables to rob and people to kidnap. This thought begs the question, are cruise ships safe from pirate attacks?
Although piracy can theoretically occur anywhere, the chances are most likely to happen in high-risk areas. To get to the most scenic and exotic parts of the world, some cruise ships sail through these areas, vastly increasing the risk of piracy.
Despite this risk, cruise ships are the safest vacation spots in the world. According to FBI statistics, serious crime is far lower at sea than on land. Moreover, a successful pirate attack on a cruise ship has never happened. From 2011-2021 there were only six attempted pirate attacks, with a few famous attempted cases the decade prior, such as the attack on the Seabourn Spirit in 2005.
Part of this success and deterrence is how comprehensive onboard security is on cruise ships. There are no standard recommendations for cruise ships, and they are expected to follow the BMP5 like merchant shipping. However, the industry does have similar practices. For example, cruise ships have strict procedures for sailing in high-risk areas. Guests must practice pirate drills.
"According to FBI statistics, serious crime is far lower at sea than on land. Moreover, a successful pirate attack on a cruise ship has never happened".
No one is allowed on the outer decks and lights are turned off. Extra military support can also be provided. Security personnel onboard are well-trained and usually have ex-military backgrounds. However, cruise companies like to keep quiet about their capabilities for apparent reasons.
Despite this obstacle, our CEO Steve Regis has served as part of a security detail for cruise ship security. We asked him some questions regarding his time in ship security to highlight the effectiveness of cruise ship security.
Q1. What was your role in cruise ship security?
The role was to prevent pirates from boarding and hijacking the ships. We achieved this by deploying a small detachment of guards onboard the cruise ship armed with Styer Scout single-shot bolt action rifles.
These guys would act as a liaison to the ship's Captain, provide advice and guidance in the event of an attack and also use their weapons as a means of deterrence and defence. Secondly, a team was shadowing the cruise liner in a fast offshore support vessel, formally commissioned as an Omani police boat. There was a team of four guards plus a crew, heavily armed with semi-automatics. The role of this vessel was to intercept any incoming threats
Q2. Did you ever get into any situations involving pirates?
Yes, whilst transiting just before point Alpha of the IRTC, we picked up a suspicious approach heading towards the cruise ship shortly before sunset. We communicated with the detachment on the bridge of the client's vessel who made alterations to the course and altered speed. Tracking the suspect vessel via radar, we could see that it altered its heading, closing the CPA (closest point of approach) to below less than 0.5km.
The bridge team fired flares to act as a warning, yet the suspect vessel continued its course, correcting to continue the intercept. At this point, our patrol vessel increased speed and moved from its position aft of the client vessel to us between the suspect craft of the cruise liner.
"Security personnel onboard are well-trained and usually have ex-military backgrounds".
As the vessel was formerly a police vessel, it was fitted with blue flashing lights. We turned these on, yet the skiff continued. Not until we fired warning shots across the bow of the attackers did they alter course and break off the attack. The light was low, but by the time the attack was aborted, we were within 400m. It was clear that there were weapons and ladders aboard the skiff. This was back in 2011, at the height of Somali piracy.
Q3. Do you think cruise ships are safer than merchant vessels?
Yes. Firstly, cruise ships typically have a high freeboard and can reach speeds above 20 knots, so technically, they are more difficult to board. Secondly, pirates are usually well-informed.
They would know that targeting a vessel with international tourists would trigger a significant international response, probably by special forces. This is typically not the response seen if a tanker is captured.
To conclude, cruise ships are very safe, and no one should fear pirate attacks. Statistics show that cruise ships are safer than land and that the security and maritime professionals on board are well-trained to handle any situation in the rare event that it would happen. However, if you get seasick quickly, you should probably avoid them.