Is Cruising to the Middle East Safe?

Bloomberg published an article today titled Why the Cruise Industry Is Booming in the Middle East.

The lighthearted article casually mentions that passengers on the "fancy, all-inclusive Seabourn Encore were enjoying martinis and opera around the pool" off the coast of Somalia "where pirates occasionally hijack cargo ships" when an alarm sounded indicating that a small motorboat approached their cruise ship. "Onto the cruise ship climbed several burly security guards with cases of 'conventional weapons,' which would provide, as the captain explained, an added layer of protection for a potentially tricky passage."

The article states  that a week later, near Abu Dhabi, another alarm sounded, signaling the arrival ofMiddle East Cruise another boat. The small boat was stocked with tins of caviar and champagne for the cruise ship guests to enjoy "in the warm surf of a private beach."

The rest of the article didn't mention the risk of encountering pirates, and there was no mention of the danger of terrorism. Instead, the article was filled with stories of wonderful exotic getaways into Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat where, the articles says, luxury travelers from an Azamara cruise ship on an excursion ashore spent "a night in Louis Vuitton tents set up in a Bedouin community in the desert."  The publication also talks about visiting "opulent mosques and labyrinthine souks" and enjoying camel rides in the desert as part of the cultural immersion and authentic experiences of the Middle East.   

The article characterized the Middle East as a "goldmine" in the eyes of the cruise lines, given the lucrative excursions and the cruise lines' ability to move their European fleets to the Middle East in winter.  

But the article misses the mark by ignoring the risk of cruise ship passengers being victims of terrorism.   

Several dozens of cruise passengers from cruise ships operated by MSC and Costa were slaughtered by terrorists visiting a museum in Tunis two years ago.   

In the last year, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen rebels attacked a naval ship from the United Arab Emirates and a frigate from U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia off the western coast of Yemen. Videos of the attacks show large explosions which were believed to be the result of a missile strike Cruise Red Sea Missle Attack Houhti Yemenand/or a suicide mission by another vessel.

The attacks occurred in the southern part of the Red Sea, north of the Bah Al-Mandab straits which is a pinch-point between the Red Sea, flanked by Saudi Arabia on the east and Egypt to the west, and the Gulf of Aden to the south. Cruise ships sailing to and from the Mediterranean and to or from the Indian Sea pass through these straits.

In the last few days, Shia rebels in Yemen have launched long range missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, illustrating the continuing dangers in that area of the world.  

Security guards with a few conventional weapons may be able to fend off pirates attempting to board a cruise ship trying to run the Bah Al-Mandab straits, but they will be useless if the Houthi rebels intentionally target a cruise ship sailing in the Red Sea, or mistakenly believe that a cruise ship is a U.S.-backed Saudi or UAE naval ship.

Considering the dangers, the intrigue of visiting the Middle East does not seem to be worth the risk.  

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Photo credits: Top - Bloomberg via Seaborn; bottom - Yemen's pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station shows launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia's King Khaled Airport. - Houthi Military Media Unit via Reuters and CBC.