Earlier this month, an English Channel ferry carrying 800 passengers from Portsmouth to Caen, France, was “invaded” by fully-armed French troops dropped from a helicopter to safeguard passengers from a seaborne terrorist attack.
Fortunately, it was only a drill. No harm done: but it sent a clear message to passenger-carrying ferries, river craft, and mega cruisers that they are on the radar of terrorists targeting international tourists on the seas for the high visibility their actions attract.
It was just 18 months earlier that terrorists attacked cruise passengers from two Costa and MSC ships visiting a port in Tunisia, killing 17 and injuring several more who were visiting the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. A soft target if there ever was one. All major cruise lines immediately halted Tunis port stops and diverted their ships to other locations.
But according to Jim Walker, a prominent Miami-based maritime lawyer who covers cruise activities on his website, cruise lines are still calling on dangerous ports, still sending passengers on unescorted shore excursions, and few are conducting anti-terrorism drills, “seemingly to avoid frightening their guests” despite warnings from senior military leaders in the US and Europe regarding the threat against the industry posed by ISIS.”
Mr. Walker also notes, in a recent blog post, that Miami-Dade County police are taking the warnings of the possibility of federal authorities seriously and have stated publicly: “We ended up concluding that now they’re targeting the cruise industry. We’re the cruise capital of the world. It’s the same possibility of having two planes crash into the World Trade Center.”
Currently, almost three quarters of a million Canadians take cruises annually, most out of ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, according to data from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), whose members include about 90 percent of the world’s cruise fleet. About 35 percent of these cruises globally are taken in the Caribbean (including eastern Mexican ports) and about 20 percent in the Mediterranean. And it’s the Mediterranean cruises—that still visit ports in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt– that engender the most concern, as, according to experts who have focused on cruise line safety, the cruise industry is not doing enough to protect their passengers from risk of terrorist attack—while on board, or especially while on landside tours.
According to the CLIA, 23.2 million passengers boarded 448 cruise ships cruises globally in 2015, 279 ocean-going vessels, and 169 river craft. About half of the total number of global passengers were Canadians and Americans. And in 2015, 18 new Ocean vessels and 8 river cruisers were added to the world’s fleet.
What concerns some of the experts is the cruise industry’s emphasis on finding new markets in the Mediterranean, especially ports in North Africa and the Middle East.
Clearly, ocean or river cruising has proven to be the most robust sector of tourism internationally and its appeal continues to grow.
Keep in mind that cruise ships are small cities (some of them hosting 6,000 residents, plus another 2000 crew members). You can’t let your guard down in that kind of environment just because you’re on vacation. Other residents may be there on “business”—bad “business”.
And when selecting your cruise, get past the romantic blah-blah in the brochures and get into details of your itinerary–the ports of call, especially in the Mediterranean (North Africa, Middle East, Turkey). Also, check out the travel advisories and cautions listed in the Government of Canadian travel advisories.
For example, though it no longer advises against “non-essential travel” to Turkey, it still advises a heightened state of awareness when visiting Turkey, and it advises against any travel Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Suez, all “non-essential travel to Egypt.
It’s also a good idea to be cautious about shore excursions in some Caribbean ports, where preying on tourists is a growth industry. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go ashore. But don’t be naïve. Check out who is conducting the tour and what reputations they have.
The bottom line is: Do your homework. Just because the cruise line may advertise “a carefree week on the seas”… care is something you never leave behind.
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