Safety at Sea: Cruise Ships & Terrorism

CBS New York aired a short special last night titled Elite NYPD Team Protects City From Dirty Bombs, Waterborne Threats.

The video focused on the efforts of a special unit of the NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Division which concentrates on protecting the hundreds of cruise ships and other maritime vessels which enter and leave the ports of New York and New Jersey each year.

The special begins with the Norwegian Gem returning in the predawn hours to New York after ten days at sea. Unbeknownst to the passengers, the NCL cruise ship was being swept for a dirty bomb before it entered the port. 

The New York anti-terrorism team reportedly uses radiation detection devices and sonar to scan the ships and docks for explosive devices.

The special briefly discusses the deadly attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and the last month's suicide attack on a Saudi Arabian frigate, both occurring in the Red Sea near Yemen, which we have mentioned several times in other articles. 

The CBS crew interviewed the CEO, Dan Richards, of a security company called Global Rescue, which CBS says provides crisis response and evacuation options to travelers. Mr.Richards mentions that that "ISIS and other terrorist organizations are planning these kinds of operations.” This is a sentiment expressed by several U.S. naval commanders in the recent past. Read: Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century by Captain Robert N. Hein, U.S. Navy.

Many travelers may be comforted by these security measures in New York and other major seaports like Miami and elsewhere. But, at the same time, the special underscores the lack of security in ports of call outside of the U.S., in places like the Caribbean and North Africa, where the port countries lack the resources to implement sophisticated anti-terrorism plans.

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Terrorism at Sea: Danger in the Red Sea

Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi frigate off the western coast of Yemen earlier this week. Video of the attack shows a large explosion near the stern of the ship, which was originally believed to be the result of a missile strike. It was later determined to be a suicide attack involving several small vessels.

The attack 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 video below  a voice narrating the attack shouts in Arabic, "Allah Akbar" followed by “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to the Jews.”

According to one U.S. network, U.S. defense analysts believe that the attack was intended for an U.S. naval vessel or that this was a “dress rehearsal” similar to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, which was being refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000 when a suicide boat loaded with explosives attacked the U.S. ship and blew up. The terrorist attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured 39 more. 

Four months ago, the Houthi rebels launched a similar missile attack against an United Arab Emirates (UAE} ship in the waters of Yemen near the straits of Bah Al-Mandab.

On October 1, 2016, Houthi rebels destroyed an Emirati vessel near the the Red Sea port city of Mokha.The Houthi rebels reportedly used a sophisticated Chinese anti-ship missile. The naval ship which was attacked was a high speed vessel ("HSV"), named the HSV 2 Swift. The ship was formerly operated by the U.S. Navy and recently had been leased to the UAE. There is a dispute whether the vessel was a civilian craft carrying humanitarian aid or an UAE navy vessel.

The Houthi (Shia) rebel group has been in armed conflict with the more moderate and Saudi Arabian backed Sunni government in Yemen. The U.S backs the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in their conflict against Yemen.

These attacks demonstrate the considerable danger posed to shipping in the Middle East by Shia militant groups, apparently supplied by Iran with sophisticated weapons. ISIS and al-Qu'ida operate in Yemen. 

Cruise ships routinely transit through the straits of Bah Al-Mandab. Many cruise ships transit through these straits at night without lights to avoid detection. 

Several U.S. naval experts and commanders as well as senior NATO officers have recently expressed their surprise that ISIS has not attacked cruise ships in the Middle East.

You can see photographs of the dramatic damage to the NSV 2 here.

The video showing the attack on the HSV 2 Swift is below.

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Interested in this issue? Consider reading: With a threat from terrorists and pirates ever-present, are there choppy waters ahead for cruise ship security

Deadly Blasts Rock Istanbul; Most Cruise Lines Already Avoiding Turkey

Istanbul TurkeyTwo coordinated bombings in Istanbul, Turkey killed 38 people and wounded 155 others yesterday. News reports report that the bombings were committed by a Turkey-based Kurdish militant group, identified in the New York Times as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK. Others said that the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, were behind the bombings. The TAK claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The first explosion was caused by a car bomb, a common terrorist method associated with other bombings in Turkey, near police special forces at the exit of a soccer stadium exit. The car was reportedly loaded with almost nine hundred pounds of explosives. Shortly thereafter, a suicide bomber triggered explosives in a nearby park.

Last week USA TODAY  announced that three Carnival Corporation brands, Cunard, Holland America Line and P&O Cruises canceled all calls to Turkey for the upcoming year (2017).

Earlier this year, ISIS suicide bombers attacked the Ataturk airport in Istanbul with powerful devices that killed over 40 people and injured several hundred others. There have been at least nine serious terror attacks in Turkey dating over a year.

This last July, President Erdogad's declared a state of emergency following a failed military coup. Many people were concerned that tourists would be frightened to travel to Turkey following the harsh steps taken by President Erdogad against dissidents.

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises ended a number of stops in Turkey this year, primarily in Kusadasi, following the unrest in Turkey this summer. But a number of smaller lines, like Azamara, Silversea, Star Clippers, Celestyal Cruises and TUI called on some ports in Turkey. 

Many American tourists have shied away from the eastern Mediterranean this year as a cruise destination because of an influx of refugees from Syria and the threat of Islamic terrorists.  

The U.S. State Department previously ordered the departure of family members of employees in the U.S. Istanbul TurkeyConsulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. The State Department warns "U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country."

The U.K. travel advisory cautions against travel against "to within 10 km of the border with Syria and to the city of Diyarbakir," but states that "it’s generally safe to travel to Turkey, but you should take additional safety precautions." The U.K., whose diplomatic missions in Turkey continue to operate as normal, points out that "British nationals made over 2.4 million visits to Turkey in 2015."

On Friday, in an article titled Terrorist Suspect Arrested on Cruise Ship, a Cayman Islands newspaper reported that a German-Turkish man who was arrested on a cruise ship Thursday on an Interpol warrant appeared in court facing potential extradition to Turkey for alleged terrorist offenses. The report claimed that the cruise passenger was engaged in terrorist activities relating to the PKK/ACK Kurdish separatist groups over 25 years ago. 

Photo credit: Murad Sezer / Reuters via NBC News (top); BJK Television (bottom).

December 15, 2016 Update: Why you may visit Albania, not Turkey, on some 2017 cruises.

Drug Bust Reveals Flaws in Cruise Ship Security

Cruise Ship Drug BustThe widely reported drug bust of three passengers this week on the Sea Princess cruise ship in Australia uncovered serious shortcomings in Princess Cruises' shipboard security.  

We have written about dozens of drug busts of relatively small quantities of cocaine on cruise ships over the years.  But 95 kilos (over 209 lbs.!) of cocaine seems to be hard to believe.  Many people have expressed their opinions that this must have been an inside job (we have no proof of this), given the use of screening equipment on cruise ships.  But some people have questioned whether the drugs were loaded onto the ship along with food and provisions and then transferred to the passengers to be smuggled off the ship in their luggage.

If the shipboard security team wasn't involved, they obviously need to enforce far better protocols to carefully screen baggage and items brought onboard the ship.    

IHS Fairplay published an article today saying that the drug bust "highlights the ability for more sinister items to be smuggled onto vessels."  In an article titled Drugs Find Highlights Cruise Security Threat, Fairplay says that "cruise companies were taking, and continue to take, security seriously but that the incident had to act as a wake-up call to revisit current systems." It quoted Gerry Northwood, a principal of the international maritime security company MAST, explaining that cruise passengers don't face the Cruise Ship Drug Bustsame restrictions as air travelers.

Northwood also warns that "If a terrorist were to secrete an explosive device inside a consignment of food, it is possible that the explosion would likely happen below the water line with obvious implications for the vessel and the safety of the passengers and crew.”

Commander Mark Gaouette, the former security head of Cunard and Princess Cruises, said in an interview today that the cruise industry should be concerned with the possibility of a terrorist group masterminding a gigantic conflagration on a ship. He cites the 2004 attack by an Islamic terrorist group which planted just eight kilograms of TNT in a cardboard box aboard the Superferry 14 in the Philippines.  The resulting fire and explosion killed over a hundred passengers and sank the ferry. 

Commander Gaouette is the author of Cruising for Trouble, Cruise Ships As Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists and Common Criminals

Photo credit: Top - Department of Immigration and Border Protection via Sydney Morning Herald; bottom - Jonathan Ng via the Daily Telegraph.  

 

Are Cruise Ships Prepared for ISIS?

Cruise Ship TerrorismAre cruise ships prepared for the threat of terrorism?

As I have contended for a long time, in my opinion no.

Cruise lines are still calling on dangerous ports. They are still sending passengers on unescorted shore excursions in buses without armed security personnel. Cruise ships can't prevent terrorists from overpowering their unarmed security guards on most cruise ships and running up the gangways. (Some European cruise lines, like Costa, have weapons).

Few lines are conducting anti-terrorist drills. The rare anti-terrorism training drill conducted by local and federal agencies are not even conducted on cruise ships.  Few lines have installed automatic man overboard alarms which have the capability to also detect when unauthorized people come over the rails onto the ship. And what can a cruise line do once terrorists gets onto the ship? Security guards are barely able to even break up bar fights.  

I received an interesting comment the other day from a reader who said that cruise ships should use muster drills to educate passengers what do to if there is a terrorist attack during a cruise. What is the protocol for a passenger if terrorists enter the ship?  Go to your cabins, hunker down and hope for the best? Try and overwhelm the attackers? Try and escape via lifeboats? Who knows?

Yesterday, a number of newspapers from the U.K. and France reported on a drill which involved a ferry from England to France where armed military personnel boarded the ferry via speedboats and a helicopter.

The Mirror explained that "fears have arisen over the threat of armed militants launching an attack on a ferry and executing passengers or detonating a suicide bomb."

These type of security drills are important. But they seem to underscore that few cruise ships are making an effort to conduct such exercises, seemingly to avoid frightening the guests.

I have reported many times about the warnings from senior military leaders in the U.S. and Europe regarding the threat against the cruise industry posed by ISIS. Just last month, the Miami-Dade County Police Department said: “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.”

Several media sources in Europe are saying that armed sea marshals are planned for ferries, at least heading to and from France. It's time for U.S. based cruise lines to employ armed guards on their cruise ships.

Interested in this issue?  Read: How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen.

Video credit: Mirror; Photo Credit: YouTube/DFMagazine via the Mirror.

 

 

77 Passengers and Crew Members Flee Ferry in Marseilles After Bomb Scare

Jean Nicoli Ferry ExplosionNewspapers in Europe are reporting that seventy-seven passengers and crew members were evacuated from a ferry and pier at the port of Joliette, in Marseilles, France after "after loud noises were heard below deck.'

The ferry was identified as the Jean Nicoli which was scheduled to leave for Sardinia this morning.  

Mail Online says that France deployed "heavily armed soldiers and police to its ports in fear of ISIS jihadis boarding ferries." The enhanced port security follows the ISIS inspired truck attack on Bastille Day in Nice, France which killed 84 people and the killing of a priest in a Normandy church.

But there seems to be uncertainty regarding what caused the explosion and where it occurred. 

While the UK based newspapers initially speculated that the explosion might have been caused by a terrorist organization, the media in France concluded that the explosion came from a bomb from the Second World War. The French newspaper Le Figaro suggested that the explosion was allegedly caused by a bomb left from World War II.

Mail Online's article was originally titled "Marseilles ferry passengers and crew flee after "explosion" heard amid fears of ISIS attack."  The newspaper changed it to "Panic as 77 passengers and crew evacuated from a ferry in Marseilles after WWI ammunition "explodes" in the seabed."

It remains unclear whether the bomb was intentionally or accidentally exploded.

The bomb reportedly did not cause any damage to the ferry or injuries to the passengers or crew.

Photo Credit: Atlantico - "Marseilles: an explosion near the Seaport causes the evacuation of a ferry."

Cruise Business As Usual in Turkey?

Blue MosqueThere are mixed messages about cruising to Turkey, following a spate of terrorist attacks in the last six months and the failed military coup two weeks ago.

A number of cruise lines stopped calling on Turkey following the June 29th ISIS-inspired terrorist attack at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul when three suicide bombers exploded powerful devices that killed over 40 people and injured over 230 others. This latest attack came after at least eight terror attacks in Turkey dating back a year.

On July 15th, a coup led by some military officers failed. President Erdogad responded by engaging in what the New York Times is calling a "widespread purge, jailing and suspending tens of thousands of state employees . . . " The Times further notes that "the military that has long served as a unifying force for the country is deeply divided, diminished and discredited." 

The U.S. State Department "warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey. In light of the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting potential for interruptions to travel and daily life, we suggest U.S. citizens reconsider travel to Turkey at this time."

The Maritime Executive published an article yesterday stating that even before the failed revolt, terrorist attacks had prompted cruise operators to reduce their stops in Turkey. But the July 15th coup attempt caused cruise lines to cut back further on scheduled port calls in Istanbul and other Turkish ports. It quoted a travel agent stating that "I would not feel comfortable sending people on holiday in the next few months. [The coup attempt] is more damaging for tourism than the terror attacks.” 

But other publications are suggesting that the cruise business in Turkey has already bounced back to what it was before the coup attempt. The Turkish Daily Sabah says that a representative of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) reported that the failed coup attempt caused only "slight losses" in Turkey's cruise tourism sector.  According to the Daily Sabah, Cihangir Canıyılmaz, the marketing director of Royal Caribbean in Turkey, said that shortly after the coup attempt, that the cruise line canceled 46 cruise voyages to Kuşadasi and five voyages to Bodrum until the end of year. However, he claims that Royal Caribbean has resumed cruises to Turkey on July 20th, following President Erdogad's declaration of the state of emergency on July 20th, and the number of tourists in the country remains high.

Whether that is true or just wishful thinking by the tourist people in Turkey, it is concerning that the Turkish military, which has been an ally of the U.S. in fighting terrorism and in curtailing the threat of ISIS, is now diminished. The military in Turkey was also vital in "controlling the migrant tide that has overwhelmed Europe," as the Times puts it.

Turkey is a beautiful country with a spectacular history and architecture, filled with warm and friendly people. It is a wonderful place to visit. But with its recent history of ISIS terrorist attacks and migrants at sea and ashore, cruising to Turkey may cause a prudent traveler to pause and reconsider. 

Photo of Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque: By Dersaadet - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.  

Photo of Istanbul credit:  By Ben Morlok - Istanbul panorama, CC BY-SA 2.0.

41 Dead, 239 Injured in Terrorist Attack at Airport in Istanbul

Istanbul TerrorTerrorism hit the Atataturk airport in Istanbul last night as three suicide bombers exploded powerful devices that killed and injured a large number of people. The rising number of victims is currently 42 dead and 239 injured. ISIS is suspected as inspiring or directing the attack. 

Cable news repeatedly showed frightening images of massive explosions in a transit lounge as well as a gunman, running into the airport shooting a AK-47 assault weapon, who then is shot by airport security and drops his weapon only to blow his suicide vest up as he lies on the floor.

This latest attack comes on the heels of previous terrorist attacks in Turkey (including two prior attacks in Istanbul this year, including a car bomb earlier this month and a suicide bomber earlier this year as well as deadly car bombs in Ankara this year) which doubtlessly will have the effect of frightening people from traveling or cruising to Turkey. 

A number of newspapers have recently reported that the two terrorists attacks last year in Tunisia (which killed 17 cruise passengers from Costa and MSC cruise ships at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and, later, several dozens of British tourists on holiday at beach resorts in Sousse Tunisia) is Istanbul Terrorcausing the country's tourism industry to struggle. Skift reports that Tunisian tourist revenue was down 35 percent last year, at $1.5 billion, and caused the dinar currency to historic lows against the dollar and euro this month. 

This is bad news for the future of tourism in Turkey. There have been at least eight terror attacks in Turkey dating back a year.  USA TODAY today published an article today which notes that "the string of attacks have caused a big drop in tourism, a major source of revenue for Turkey. Many cruise ships that used to make port calls in Istanbul are bypassing the city."

The U.S. State Department "warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey" (i.e., near Syria). The June 27, 2016 warning, issued the day before the attack, said: ""foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations."

The CruiseArabia website says that "just two international cruise ships were in Turkish waters at the time of the attack Tuesday, both Wind Star and Royal Caribbean’s ‘Jewel of the Seas’ have continued with their cruise itineraries as planned.

At the time of writing Jewel of the Seas was in port in Kusudasi while Wind Star was anchored off Bodrum. Both Windstar Cruises and Royal Caribbean have refused to comment on whether any additional security has been put in place for passengers on shore excursions in the wake of the attacks."

Photo credit: Top - Fox News; Bottom AP via IndianExpress

Is There a Cruise Anywhere That Travel Writers Think is Dangerous?

I could not help noticing that USA travel writer Gene Sloan's article today entitled Afraid to cruise in Europe? Nuts! Now's a great time to go seems to be sponsored by Viking River Cruises.  The don't-worry-be-happy article starts after a 65 photo portfolio as part of an introductory summary of "Cruise ship tours: Viking River Cruises' Viking Skirnir" and then is followed by another 99 photos which were part of another article promoting Viking - "First look: Inside Viking Cruises' new Viking Sea." Just two days ago, Gene was hawking Viking cruises in another article - New Viking line plans epic, 141-day world cruise.

There's no question that cruising to Europe seems to be lagging behind cruises to other locations viking Cruiseswhich are perceived to be safer, like the Caribbean. We all know from comments by the cruise executives at Royal Caribbean following its last quarter that Americans Are Cruising Closer to U.S. Waters, due to the terrorist activities in Paris and Brussels.   

The number one location that we are asked about is Turkey.  To respond to such inquiries, we mention prior terrorist attacks there and the issue of immigrants from Syria and other countries, but the reader has to make up their own mind whether it is reasonably safe based on their own risk assessment.

But it's naive to think that cruising to the Caribbean is safer than cruising to Europe. I can readily say that cruising to the Caribbean will take you to some of the most dangerous ports of call in the world, not from terrorists mind you, but from common criminals. Some of the Caribbean ports have a lot of crime and high murder rates which make cruising to Nassau, St. Thomas and Roatan like cruising to East St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit except most U.S. citizens don't know any better.  Europe is far safer than the Caribbean in terms of rape, murder, harassment and theft. 

Regarding the threat of terrorism, we have written many articles pointing out what the true experts are saying, like U.S. and British naval commanders who are reporting about the threats of ISIS to Europe from North Africa. Take a moment and read the recent article by Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer - Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer).  I also suggest that travelers consider the warning of retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis or the warning from the U.K. naval commander for NATO that ISIS presents a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Most experts seems to say it's just a matter of when and where, not if, ISIS will attack. The highly respected gCaptain reported yesterday that Captain William Nault, Chief of Staff with the multi-national Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), told Reuters that Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch remains a powerful force and poses a growing risk to ships.  

We have seen other don't-worry-about-a-thing articles from travel writers before, like the article in the Telegraph in February - Are Cruise Holidays Safe from Terrorism? written by U.K. cruise travel specialist Jane Archer, who appeared to us to ignore history and down-play the threat of terror.

Chances are remote, of course, that you will be attacked by terrorists when you cruise in or around Europe. The chances of being a victim of crime in the Caribbean are greater. But as far as cruises in either part of the world, you certainly aren't nuts if you decide to vacation somewhere else this summer. 

Photo credit:  By Viking Cruises - Viking Cruises, CC0, commons / wikimedia.org

ISIS: 21st Century Sea Monster or Much Ado About Nothing?

Stephen L. Caldwell,  a member of the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee. down-played the threat of international radical Islamic terrorism on the cruise industry in an article for Maritime Executive entitled Tightening the Security Envelope - Despite all the hoopla about terrorist threats and onboard crime, cruise ships are among the safest places on earth. He suggests that talk of terrorism is "much ado" about nothing. I posted Mr.Caldwell's article on our Facebook page with the comment that "if the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security is listening to this committee on USS Cole - ISIS Terrorinternational maritime security matters, passengers are sitting ducks."

My view is that Mr. Caldwell's naive article might as well have been written by the Cruise Line International Association for PR purposes. It is dangerously irresponsible to crew members and cruise passengers alike. I have expressed my feelings here about the threat of ISIS on cruise shipping many times before, including How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen

Fortunately, other knowledgeable experts have provided a more realistic view of ISIS's motivations. Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer, wrote an article which was published today, Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein is hardly an arm chair quarterback; he previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer).  

He suggests that it is not if, but when will ISIS and "other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?" Citing the many examples of attacks ashore, Captain Hein suggests that an ISIS attack on an underway cruise ship is real. Like assaulting a "large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel," the "narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help."

He estimates that the chance that ISIS will attack "blue water objectives out of sight of land" is still remote as long as navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. However, coastal attacks like that committed by ISIS predecessor Al Qaeda against the USS Cole (attack diagram above) remain more probable. And he specifically cites the terrorist attacks last March at the Bardo museum in Tunis, when cruise passengers from a Costa and MSC cruise ship were killed. He also cites a shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August of last year.

Photo Credit: USS Cole diagram - Reuters; Video credit: U.K.'s Mirror

Have a thought? Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

April 24 2016:  "Special forces guard cruise terror targets: Commandos trained to take out IS suicide boats" via UK's Daily Star. 

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral: "I'm Surprised ISIS Has Not Gone After Cruise Ships"

Military.com reports that retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis stated at a naval / private industry conference that the next attack by Islamic State militants may be directed to a navy ship or a cruise ship.

The military.com website quotes the distinguished retired naval commander saying: "We have an organization that has demonstrated they are highly innovative and I don't rule out a Cole-like event," referring to the 2000 event when an al-Qaida group rammed a boat filled with explosives into the U.S. destroyer U.S. S. Cole. The terrorist attack occurred when the naval ship was being refueled in the U.S. S. Cole - Cruise Ship TerrorismYemeni port of Aden. 17 American sailors were killed and 39 service men and women were injured. 

According to military.com, the commander said: "I'm surprised [Islamic State militants] have not as yet moved into the maritime world and gone after cruise ships, which I think are a logical and lucrative target for them."

He mentioned the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian militants who murdered Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer.

The article mentioned that Commander Stavridis said that ships were "most vulnerable when they were first getting underway and going out to sea," not when they were pier-side or out on the open ocean. "If I were an Islamic State planner, that's what I would be looking at," he said.

This is one of the scenarios which I have mentioned in articles like al Qaeda Planned to Seize Cruise Ships, Execute Passengers which I published four years ago and How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen which I published last year.

Some cruise lines have temporarily dropped ports in North Africa (Tunis) and in the eastern Mediterranean (Turkey) due to concerns with terrorist attacks.  

Photo Credit: Department of Defense via military.com

Customs & Border Protection Arrest Passenger on Kidnapping Charges, But Only After Cruise

News accounts are reporting that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested a cruise passenger in Miami on charges that he has outstanding arrest warrants for kidnapping as well as assault and battery. 

The charges involve criminal allegations made in South Carolina. The newspaper said the unidentified person is now awaiting extradition to South Carolina.

A CBP spokesperson at the port in Miami was quoted saying: "intercepting wanted criminals and detaining them on behalf of a law enforcement agency is part and parcel to what CBP does to ensure those crossing the border into the United States do not pose a risk to our nation and its population.”  

The above quote is rather bizarre because the man arrested is apparently an U.S. citizen who went on a cruise out of Miami which included a port in Jamaica.  So the CBP should have arrested the cruise passenger on the assault and kidnapping charges at the beginning of the cruise rather than at the end.

The news release by the CBP is misleading and says that the man was arrested "after he arrived here on a cruise ship from Jamaica." Of course, there are no cruises which originate in Jamaica.  

The CBP boasts that the arrest demonstrates "vigilance and dedication exercised every day by CBP officers to secure our homeland and safeguard our citizens."  But the truth of the matter is that the CBP didn't bother to screen the cruise manifest and arrest the wanted man before he sailed from U.S. waters.

We have seen this problem many times. Read our article two years ago - Are You Cruising with a Wanted Felon? Five Passengers Arrested on Carnival Magic in Galveston.

This reveals a major flaw in the CBP which does not bother to review who is leaving the country on cruises.  This person had an outstanding arrest warrant for serious violent felonies yet he was permitted on the unidentified cruise ship to mingle with passengers when potentially he posed a danger to others.  

The CBP's primary mission is anti-terrorism, it admits, so it is inexcusable that it does not scrutinize passenger lists before cruise ships sail out of U.S waters.       

The Customs and Border Patrol should begin vetting the name of passengers before the cruise starts, rather than screening passengers only at the end of the cruise. Unfortunately this is standard practice Customs and Border Protection - Cruise Ships for the CBP, which routinely permits rapists, criminals with outstanding warrants and other misfits to board cruise ships. Then there is great fanfare at the end of the cruise when the CBP finally take a look at the ship manifest. 

As we reported before, cruise passengers Steven Mark Anthony Requena (photo right), age 28, was arrested while disembarking the Carnival Inspiration at the Port of Tampa two year ago. His name was flagged by a sweep of the manifest of passengers by Homeland Security officials who determined that the passenger was wanted for sexual assault in addition to assault with a weapon and forcible confinement. The U.S. Marshals arrested Requena only after the cruise ship returned to port. Regretfully, our federal government routinely looks at the ship passenger list only after the bad guys have already boarded the cruise ship.

It is one of the reasons why cruising is more dangerous that it should be. At a time when the world is focused on dealing with ISIS, it is irresponsible for our Federal employees not to look at the passenger list before the cruise ship leaves a U.S. port. 

UK Naval Commander Warns that ISIS Could Target Cruise Ships in Mediterranean

Multiple news outlets in the U.K. are reporting that the U.K. naval commander for NATO is warning that ISIS presents a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean Sea.

The popular Daily Mail published UK Commander Warns Mediterranean Cruise Ships Could be Terror Targets.  

It's a topic we cover often.  It is our belief that cruise ships are woefully unprepared to address the threat of an ISIS attack on a cruise ship and when cruise passenger are sent ashore on excursions, where they are particularly vulnerable.  

We were interviewed in several online articles about the issue, including Yahoo Travel: Is Your Cruise SISIS Terrorismhip Prepared for a Terrorist Attack?

There are few travel writers willing to have a frank and realistic assessment of the vulnerability of cruise ships to terrorists.

We have been criticized before for discussing how how ISIS will attack cruise ship passengers:  How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen.

Today the Telegraph published an article Are Cruise Holidays Safe from Terrorism? written by U.K. cruise travel specialist Jane Archer who, in our assessment, down played the threat or terror.

She argues that: "One of the benefits of a cruise holiday is that cruise companies can change itineraries immediately in response to incidents. Hotels cannot do that. If the cruise lines believe it is dangerous to visit a particular port, they can simply alter course and so (sic) somewhere else so holidays are not ruined."

Ms. Archer also says that "there is no evidence at all that terrorists have targeted cruise passengers in the past."

She also claims that "cruise lines conduct stringent security checks on everyone embarking their ships. Luggage is put through X-ray scanners, just as it is at an airport before flying, and passengers have to walk through detectors before being allowed on board." 

Ms. Archer's article is essentially a regurgitation of the talking points released by the cruise industry's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association

In response, I would point out these facts: 

22 cruise tourists from a Costa and a MSC cruise ship were slaughtered when they disembarked excursion buses at the Bardo museum in Tunis with absolutely no security and no warnings even though it was widely known to these cruise lines that ISIS presented a danger in the region.  The cruise lines cruised their guests into danger and should have sailed them elsewhere but didn't. Cruise lines are often motivated primarily by financial considerations, not the safety and security of their passengers.  

Yes, of course terrorists have targeted cruise passengers in the past. Putting aside the Achille Lauro terrorist attack back in the 1980's, the Rand corporation has more recently stated that cruise passengers are targets. CNN reported that al Qaeda contemplated seizing a cruise ship, forcing the passengers to dress in orange Guantanamo Bay-like suits, and videotape their executions to inflict maximum terror on the public. Read al Qaeda Planned to Seize Cruise Ships, Execute Passengers. Of course, ISIS just targeted the cruise passengers' excursion buses in Tunis.

Think that all passenger luggage is carefully screened for security purposes? Ask yourself that question after reading Port of Miami Security Guards Arrested for Stealing Cruise Passenger iPads. Large quantities of drugs are also often smuggled aboard cruise ships by crew members without detection. If crew members or passengers can smuggle large quantities of drugs onto ships in luggage or taping the drugs to their bodies, they can do the same with explosives. 

U.S. immigrations officials typically do not review passenger manifests until after the cruise ship sails and arrest people with outstanding warrants only when the cruise ship returns to port.  Are you about to cruise with a terrorist in the cabin next door?  Maybe. The Customs and Border Protection officials may arrest the bad guys but only if you make it back to port.

ISIS already blew up an Egyptian frigate at sea, just last year (photo above).  As we all know, Islamic extremists blew up the USS Cole many years ago, by ramming a small boat packed with explosives into the naval ship, killing many U.S. service men and women. 

The warning signs are all there. It's your decision who to believe or disbelieve. Do you tend to trust the top NATO naval commander for the U.K. or a cruise writer for the Telegraph? 

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Is Your Cruise Ship Prepared for a Terrorist Attack?

Yahoo Travel just interviewed me for its article Is Your Cruise Ship Prepared for a Terrorist Attack?

There are nearly 500 comments to the article some of which are quite interesting to read.

The Yahoo article does not really touch upon the issue that cruise ships are largely unarmed. So regardless how you feel about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the cruise ships by and large don't have armed security guards. Contrary to people who want to believe that the ships are armed but the cruise lines don't want to tip their hand to the terrorists, there is in fact no hidden cache of weapons ready to be deployed by the cruise ship's security forces.  

Cruise ships are flagged in foreign countries like the Bahamas or Panama. The international Maritime Organization (IMO) has no authority to regulate the use of guns on these foreign flagged ship. The IMO does not even recommend that cruise ships have guns.

We have written about the dangerous current set of affairs where some cruise ships are sailing into Somali pirate infested waters where the few security guards had to use fake wooden rifles, deck chairs and water cannons to fight off pirates armed with rocket propelled grenades. You can read about pirate attacks against cruise ships here:

Are Cruise Lines Taking Adequate Steps to Protect Passengers from Pirate Attacks?
Cruise Line Liability for Injuries to Passengers and Crew Members Caused by Pirate Attacks

Some cruise ships go as far as to install razor wire around the rails and position logs to be dropped on the pirates below if they run their skiffs up to the cruise ship. You can see a photo of this spectacle here.

As we explained in this article, the IMO issued "guidance" on the use of armed guards on ships, but stresses that it is still not recommending them. Instead it states that shipping companies should consider arming crew members or hiring private armed guards on board only after conducting a risk assessment subject to approval by the flag state. The IMO also recommends that shipping companies follow all laws and regulations imposed by that flag state regarding the use of armed guard apply to their vessels.

The only cruise ships which seems to permit weapons aboard Cruise Ships - Weapons at Seaare flagged in Italy, which seems to have a different attitude towards guns and permits cruise ships flagged there (like Costa) to have weapons aboard.

A Costa ship got itself into a bit of scandal a couple of years ago when a female crew member was photographed holding a huge automatic weapon in the bridge of the cruise ship. The Italian newspaper Oggi published photographs of the attractive Romanian blonde, Sasha Alexandra, posing in the bridge of the Costa Atlantica. She was photographed next to the captain in a tight cocktail dress holding a large machine gun.

But cruise ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean or NCL, flying the flags of the Bahamas or Panama, have no weapons at sea.

One reader on our Facebook page remarked:

"Cruise lines can't even keep the Ranch Dressing filled at the salad bar . . You are fooling yourself if you think they would be able to fight off an armed boarding / takeover attempt."

I tend to agree.

Photo Credit: Oggi via Telegraph

MSC Fantasia Terror Alert?

MSC Fantasia A Greek newspaper is reporting that the MSC Fantasia has been subjected to a search for explosives today after calling on Haifa. 

The MSC cruise ship arrived today in the Bay of Souda near Chania in Crete. A Greek newspaper in Athens "To Vima" reports that suspicious passengers or explosives may be on board the ship.

The MSC ship carries 3,393 passengers with a crew of 1,259 people. The ship was originally headed for the port of Heraklion. The Coast Guard and other authorities at the Souda naval base were reportedly notified. 

The newspaper says that the MSC Captain advised the authorities that the ship was changing course because of the weather and that a passenger, apparently a German citizen, had died and needed to be autopsied to determine whether the passenger died from cardiac causes as suspected. However, the newspaper reports that the ship had already changed course for security reasons.

The article said that the recent terrorist attack in Istanbul by ISIS had raised an alert regarding terrorism including attacks on cruise ships sailing in the region.

The next port for the Fantasia will be Civitavecchia in Italy.  

A German newspaper contains a quote from MSC Cruises saying that bad weather was the reason for the diversion. The cruise line said rumors of security issues are "totally unfounded."

I would be interested in hearing what crew members and passenger have to say about the weather conditions at the time.

There nonetheless appears to be a heightened security alert following the terrorist attack in Turkey. 

ABC News reported yesterday that Crystal Cruises announced that it was canceling stops for the Crystal Symphony in Istanbul and Kusadasi, Turkey "in response to ongoing security concerns."

The itineraries for Crystal voyages that set sail April 24 and May 1 will reportedly include destinations in Greece instead of Turkey.

U.S. cruise operators are being tight lipped about whether they are reasonably equipped to respond to security challenged presented by ISIS. However, German tour operators recently admitted that terrorism is their top challenge in 2016. And German tourists may be re-thinking their travel plans as tourists have become terror targets.

Photo Credit: "MSC Fantasia 2012 2" by Benjamin Nagel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons / Wikipedia

Cruise Ship Terrorism: "The Elephant in the Room" for 2015

We are just a few hours before placing 2015 is in our rear view mirror as we start upon a fresh New Year. So what are the memories which come to mind when we think of taking a cruise in 2015?  And what are the lessons that the cruise industry learned in 2015 which will ensure that history does not repeat itself in 2016?

I started the draft of this article by listing all of the ship fires this year, as well as the cases of passenger and crew member overboards, children drowning in cruise ship swimming pools without lifeguards, and sexual assaults of children and women. But all of these incidents, no matter how tragic, don't come close to the scope of the death and mayhem associated with the murder of two dozen cruise passengers by terrorists in Tunis, Tunisia.  

The incident which kept coming back to me as I wrote this article was the massacre of twenty-two Tunis Terror Attackcruise passengers from Costa and MSC cruise ships in Tunisia. This terrifying incident involving cruise ships which were docked at the La Goulette cruise port in Tunis should have brought the reality of radical Islamic terrorism directly to the attention of cruise executives in the U.S. and Europe. We warned about incidents like this happening a month prior in ISIS Poses Terrorist Threat to Cruise Ships in Mediterranean. The passengers, however, received no warnings from the cruise operators which sent bus loads of tourists to the Bardo Museum without making any security arrangements whatsoever. 

The day before the massacre, the cruise executives presented a “state of the cruise industry” speech at the annual trade convention on Miami Beach, Cruise Shipping Miami. The CEOs of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and MSC Cruises discussed building bigger ships and expanding into new markets such as Cuba and China. The CEO of NCL, Frank Del Rio, remarked that “Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon could be more lucrative than Cuba.” The convention audience politely applauded and the other cruise executives smiled. I couldn’t help tweeting “have you heard of ISIS?

With the blood of twenty-two dead passengers on their hands, the cruise lines doubled down and announced that there were no indications that terrorism could strike a cruise ship or its passengers and crew in Tunis. The cruise industry not only refused to take any responsibility for the massacre but the spokesperson for the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) boasted that "cruise ships are a safe and secure place for our guests in the rare event of a shore side incident." MSC Cruises USA CEO Rick Sasso said "There was no hint of terrorism or uncertainty in Tunisia before the attack . . . There are a zillion ports around the world, and we follow all of them. . . There was nothing going on there that indicated this should've been a concern."

The truth is that Tunisian soldiers were engaged in ongoing battles against Al Qaeda when the MSC and Costa ships sailed there. There were prior suicides bombers which targeted hotels and museums filled with tourists. The U.K. had issued a prior warning of a terrorist attack on tourist sites and the U.S. repeatedly urged caution. ISIS was recruiting young men from mosques in Tunis to be trained and radicalized in Libya. The signs of trouble were all there.

The most frequent question which I have received this year is "is it safe to cruise in the Mediterranean with my family?" Yahoo asked me to write an opinion piece about the cruise industry shortly after disaster struck at the Bardo museum. In response, I penned Is Cruising Safe? A Chilling Look at an Industry Under Siege which provides my thoughts about the issue of safety and international terrorism.

The cruise industry needs to wake up. Tunis was preventable. Greater attention to Al Qaeda and ISIS is necessary to avoid a similar if not worse attack on innocent passengers. Dangerous ports need to be avoided. In the past, Princess Cruises used security teams / police to accompany tour bus excursions in Egypt. Maritime security teams are also required in foreign ports of call to address the risk of waterborne attacks. Cruise lines are overflowing with cash. The cruise industry collects around $45 billion a year, pays their crew members peanuts and doesn't pay U.S. taxes. The industry needs to start investing some of those tens of millions of dollars into substantial security to keep their guests safe. 

NCL's executive Del Rio, who salivated over record profits in Tunis and other risky Arab/Middle Eastern ports earlier this year was interviewed by Travel Weekly last week. Of course he remains bullish about cruising in 2016 but said that terrorism is always the "elephant in the room."  Well it's time that the cruise lines began talking about the elephant.

In the past couple of weeks, travel agents and travel writers have written articles about whether cruise lines are prepared for radical Islamic terrorism. A Florida travel agent wrote "A Boatload of Reasons Why You Should Feel Secure on a Cruise Ship" for Travel Pulse. Australian travel writer Michael Gebicki wrote "How Do Cruise Ships Guard Against Terrorism?" Neither article explains what cruise lines are actually doing or provide any reason why you should feel protected on a cruise ship. Both articles are just spinning the story to assure that travel in places like North Africa and the Middle East are not disrupted. These articles don't even admit that most cruise lines do not have any weapons on the ships to repel an organized attack up the gangway. Take a look at the pitiful way cruise ships responded to the threat of pirates and you can quickly realize that the industry is unarmed and not prepared to protect the passengers or crew. 

Cruise ship security teams seem to have their hands full responding to drunk passengers on their ships.  A well organized attack by ISIS will send the weapon-less security guards scurrying into the ship. The obvious will then become apparent - that cruise ships are sitting ducks.  We already know that al Qaeda has planned to seize cruise ships and execute passengers years ago. The difference today is that terrorists are no longer interested in holding hostages, but are motivated to simply kill and terrorize as many people as possible.

There will be travelers who read this and will respond that the threat of terrorism is everywhere; just ask the residents of Paris or the citizens in San Bernardino, California. Don't be afraid because the terrorists will already be winning, they will say. Perhaps so.  But my thoughts are that a family looking for a relaxing vacation who picks a cruise vacation to the Mediterranean on a huge cruise ship fiiled with thousands of other passengers is just asking for trouble. 

Photo Credit: Bottom AFP

Islamic Terrorism: Are Cruise Executives Asleep at the Wheel?

Cruise TerrorismTwo articles caught my attention this morning.

Cruise Industry Believe Red Tape and Visa Restrictions are a Bigger Threat than Terrorism, written by cruise fan and Mirror blogger Captain Greybeard, suggests that the cruise line CEO's were downplaying the threat of terrorism this week at the Seatrade Europe conference held in Hamburg.

The Islamist Menace Shadowing This Sept. 11th, written by former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, indicates that America is in denial of the "increasing and diversifying" jihadist threats of violence. Unlike President Obama who avoids any characterization of terrorism linked to Islamic radicalism, Giuliani traces the threat of killing Americans in terror attacks squarely back to  "extremist interpretation of Muhammad’s call to jihad." He cites the 1985 murder of Jewish cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer, who was killed by "Islamic terrorist terrorists" while in his wheelchair and dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, as an example of what can happen today.   

But families booking cruises to Mediterranean ports of call don't read history books. I doubt that 5 percent of U.S. cruisers know the story of Leon Klinghoffer or could name the cruise ship he was slaughtered on. 

This week I was contacted by cruise passengers who were upset that their cruises to Istanbul were canceled. They scoffed when the captain mentioned the threat of terrorism as an explanation.

ISIS radicals today present a threat far more widespread and deadly than the PLO terrorists of the 1980's. Are cruise passengers in denial?  Yes, of course. No one wants to contemplate terrorism at sea during a holiday cruise any more than they wish to consider experiencing a cruise ship fire, which is a relatively common occurrence as recent events illustrate.

Are cruise executives downplaying the threat of ISIS blowing up a ship or holding passengers hostage? Such talk is bad for business. Other than occasionally canceling a port of two, the cruise industry routinely sails through the Suez canal and to ports in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt.

Don't assume that the cruise lines will avoid a dangerous port of call. Islamic terrorists killed 32 cruise passengers in Tunisia earlier this year when Costa and MSC cruised blindly into the Goulette port in Tunis. Despite the foreseeable risk of danger presented by Islamic terrorists active in the country and in nearby Libya, the cruise lines provided absolutely no security or warnings to their guests. 

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit: International Business Times

Celebrity Cancels More Stops in Istanbul

Celebrity Cruises canceled a stop in Istanbul earlier this week because of concerns with terrorism.  We were the first to report on the cancellation involving the Equinox.

Today, Celebrity canceled more port stops, announcing that the Reflection will not stay in Istanbul on August 31st and will depart earlier in the day. Celebrity will also skip the Reflection's port call in Istanbul on September 4th & 5th and will instead call on Athens. 

Cruise IstanbulOn August 19th Costa canceled all port stops in Istanbul for the remainder of the year.

Costa and other cruise lines are under pressure not to sail more passengers into danger like Costa  recklessly did when it cruised to Tunisia in March, resulting in passengers being slaughtered. I called for the security chiefs to be sacked

There are hundreds of cruises scheduled for Istanbul this year. Expect more cancelations

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Photo Credit: rehbergundemi.com

Celebrity Equinox Cancels Stop In Istanbul

Today I received a message from a passenger aboard the Celebrity Equinox that the Equinox was skipping the port of Istanbul because of the threat of terrorism.

Gabriele Giambrone commented that "Celebrity Equinox canceled our planned stop in Istanbul tomorrow due to terrorist fears and high security alerts. We will be having a day at sea instead."

He states on his Facebook page that "this is an announcement from your Captain: due to high security Celebrity Equinox risks and an increased risk of terrorist attacks, we won't be going to Istanbul tomorrow. Enjoy the rest of your holiday."

The Wall Street Journal recently mentioned "a spate of attacks across Turkey that targeted security forces and a U.S. consulate killed six people." 

"A recent surge in violence on Turkish soil has largely been blamed on the domestic conflict with Kurdish separatist group PKK, not Islamic State . . . Turkey is now battling a chaotic mix of the PKK, Marxist militants and Islamic State while dealing with a huge influx of Syrian refugees." 

Costa recently canceled all stops in Turkey.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have a Global Security Team headed by former FBI senior official Gary Bald. Foreign port safety assessment is a function of every cruise line. It's good to see cruise lines taking affirmative steps to keep passengers and crew members safe, rather than Costa and MSC sailing their guests blindly into a danger spot like Tunis earlier this year. 

Have a thought? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

Photo Credit: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) via Wikipedia Creative Commons 3.0

Terrorism: ISIS Attacks at Sea

The images posted on Twitter yesterday of ISIS blowing up an Egyptian Navy frigate are frightening. 

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The SITE Intel Group says that the terrorists destroyed the naval ship with a guided missile. The images were widely broadcast. Time and Al Jazeera and many other newspapers and news stations published them. 

No travel or cruise magazine will publish them, for obvious reasons. 

Is it foreseeable that ISIS will attack a cruise ship?  Of course, but you would never know that if you rely ISIS Attacks at Seaon the cruise industry or your local travel agent for information and advice.

The cruise industry has a nonchalant view of terrorism. It reassures its customers that it's allegedly safe to cruise in the Mediterranean. Costa and MSC (and five other cruise lines) scheduled calls in Tunis (La Goulette) even after the Bardo Museum massacre where 22 cruise passengers were slaughtered. The second attack in Tunisia was predictable and came in June when a single radicalized Muslim with a Kalashnikov gunned down 38 more tourists at the resorts in Sousse.  

Cruise ships sailing in Mediterranean waters are sitting ducks. I have been criticized before for explaining how the terrorists will attack cruise passengers as they sail off the Coasts of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.  

Terrorists have demonstrated that they can blown up a U.S. Navy vessel (USS Cole - 16 years ago). When the jihdists want to focus the cross-hairs of their weapons on a slow moving cruise ship, they can easily do so. The only question is whether the action will be in the form of an external attack (suicidal jihadists on a small boat with explosives ram the ship or the terrorists fire RPG's into the hull), or whether the terrorists will try and board the ship and take the cruise passengers hostage and begin beheading them on video.   

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Photo Credit: SITE Intel Group via Al Jazeera

Terror in Tunis: Did the Cruise Lines Get the Memo?

MSC and Costa sailed their guests into danger in March when terrorists slaughtered cruise tourists as they exited into the Tunis museum excursion site from cruise buses transporting them from the port. The cruise lines neither provided nor arranged security for their customers or, for that matter, announced even a single warning of the risks of danger. 

Terrorists have attacked tourist spots in Tunisia before and would so again. 

The cruise lines ignored the considerable risks posed by the ISIS and Al Queda terrorists growing in La Goulette Cruise Terminalneighboring Libya and already festering in Tunisia. After the bloodshed, the cruise industry quickly launched a PR campaign stating that cruising to Tunis was safe

Soon, MSC and Costa began rescheduling calls to Tunis, notwithstanding the loss of life.

Princess, Croisieres De France (CDF), Holland America Line, Viking Ocean Cruises and Star Clippers also scheduled cruise ship to head to Tunis, as reported by the Cruise Arabia website

But then terrorists targeted a resort in Tunisia frequented by tourists.  On June 26th, 38 tourists were killed. Terrible, gruesome deaths. These were not cruise vacationers, but mostly British and European families on holiday, so the story was not portrayed as an attack on the cruise industry.  

Today, the prime minister of Tunisia says that additional plots, aimed at "massive deaths," are in the works. He earlier declared a state of emergency.

60 tourists to Tunisia were killed in the two deadly attack in Tunisia in the past three months. I suppose it doesn't really matter what the PR departments of the cruise lines say anymore. Their lack of credibility has been established. I believe Minister Habib Essid when he says that the terrorists are plotting the deaths of tourists, whether they arrive by cruise ship, airplane or bus. 

I reached out today on Twitter and Facebook to determine which cruise lines canceled their stops in Tunis. A couple of passengers tell me that Costa, which canceled cruise after the March attacks but scheduled stops in August, just canceled some of their calls later this summer.  But no word from any travel agents, or cruise lines for that matter, whether they are still selling cruises to North Africa. 

July 9 2015 Update:  MSC announced today that the "MSC Preziosa no longer will visit La Goulette, Tunisia between November 15, 2015 and April 23, 2016 as scheduled. The ship instead will stop in Valletta, Malta. Also affected are single sailings of the MSC Magnifica and MSC Poesia in November and December, respectively. Both of the ships instead will stop in Alicante, Spain."

July 10 2015 Update: According to Time magazine, the terrorist trained with extremists in Libya at the same time as the two gunmen who killed the 22 cruise passengers in the March attack during the Bardo museum excursion for Costa and MSC in Tunis.

"Thirty of the 38 people killed in Sousse were British tourists. Britain’s Foreign Office warned tourists Thursday to leave Tunisia as soon as possible, saying a further terrorist attack was 'highly likely.'”

 

Photo Credit: La Goulette Village Harbor

Is the Cruise Industry Taking Terrorism Seriously? 92% Say No

National Geographical's ombudsman Christopher Elliott just published the article which I wrote for Yahoo Travel tilted Is Cruising Safe? A Chilling Look at an Industry Under Siege.

Elliott's article is titled Terrorists Target Cruise Ships — Here’s What You Need to Know Now.

He asks this question at the end of the article:

Costa FascinosaIs the cruise industry taking terrorism seriously?

The reader then selects one of two possible answers:

No, it needs to do more  ___

Yes, it's doing enough to protect passengers  ___

So far, 92% of those responding answered No, with only 8%.saying Yes.

The poll confirms what I suspected about the cruise industry - that is is perceived by the public as pushing itineraries in the Middle East which are potentially dangerous with little concerned about the safety of the passengers. 

Costa and MSC Cruises did not issue a single warning to their passengers before unloading them in Tunis. Both cruise lines were pushing excursions in Tunisia. Neither cruise line arranged for security for the buses targeted by the terrorists.  The cruise excursion buses unloaded the passengers into a trap because of the negligence of the cruise lines. 

Will the cruise industry wake up and protect their guests?  It seems that the public thinks that the cruise lines can do a lot more. 

Have a comment?  Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

Photo Credit: Rene Grob via Wikimedia Creative Commons 3.0

How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen

USS Cole AttackFor the past couple of years I've been troubled by the increasing violence in North Africa and the Middle East and the unprecedented nature of the cruelty of jihadist terrorists who have beheaded and burned "infidels" alive. I have worried about various scenarios where cruise passengers are at risk of attack.

We already know that al Qaeda has planned to seize cruise ships and execute passengers.

 Our readers have sent us various scenarios of how cruise passengers are at risk on the high seas and in ports of call. 

A terrorist fires a RPG into a cruise ship: Libya is awash in weapons after Colonel Muammar Gadaffi was killed and lost control of the country. Automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades (RPG's), mortars, bazookas, and anti-aircraft guns have fallen into the hands of violent religious fanatics. The two Tunisian terrorists killed during the attack on Costa and MSC cruise passengers were trained in Libya. ISIS and Al Qaeda, of course, have access to weapons, including RPG's, throughout the Middle East.

Think it's far fetched? Think again. Al Qaeda has already used this weapon to attack tankers in the Middle East. In the video below, you can see the terrorists fire their weapons, yell Allah Akbar ("God is Great") and run off into the bushes. Cruise ships are easy targets, over three football fields long and 15 stories high, moving at only a few knots an hours while entering and leaving ports. A RPG would slice though the aluminum hull like butter and cause fire, damage, injuries and death. They're sitting ducks without military escorts. 

A USS Cole-style kamikaze attack on a cruise ship:  Remember the U.S.S. Cole? 17 service men USS Cole Attackand women were murdered when suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship. Such an attack during a fueling operation while a fuel barge is alongside a cruise ship would result in a tremendous explosion with many hundreds of deaths.

Blowing up a tour excursion bus:There have been many tour buses filled with tourists which terrorists have attacked over the years. A bus with Korean tourists was exploded in Egypt last year. The saying "safety in numbers" doesn't apply to cruise passengers; its more likely to make you a target when you come off of a cruise ship and board a bus with fifty other passengers. You can see what a terrorist attack on a bus looks like in the video below.

Al Qaeda embeds themselves as crew members or passengers: After 9/11 and the attack on the twin towers, my office received a call from an agitated U.S. crew member (a musician). He was upset that other crew members on a U.S based cruise ship which sailed into Miami were literally cheering while watching televised images of the death and destruction. Some cruise lines boast that their crew come from 60 different countries. This may well be an asset in most circumstances but it underscores the fact that the crew members have loyalties to other countries and other causes than those shared by U.S. Tourist Bus Attackpassengers.

A reader of my recent article for Yahoo Travel titled Is Cruising Safe? A Chilling Look at an Industry Under Siege offered this scenario:

". . . This isn't about the ports and the safety of them. A terrorist could be among you at the buffet, laying by the pool, playing slots, drinking at the bar … they lay in wait. They're completely legitimate looking like one of us. 50 of them could board a ship as a passenger with a clean record. They've been trained in other countries. They've lived in the countries they're in for years and they lay in wait anticipating their marching orders. Then three days into the cruise, they take over the ship and start killing passengers . . . And that's how it'll go down."

The cruise industry needs to wake up. Tunis was preventable. Greater attention to Al Qaeda and ISIS is necessary to avoid a similar if not worse attack on innocent passengers. Dangerous ports need to be avoided. In the past, Princess Cruises used security teams / police to accompany tour bus excursions in Egypt. Maritime security teams are also required in foreign ports of call to address the risk of waterborne attacks. Cruise lines are overflowing with cash. The cruise industry collects around $40 billion a year, pay their crew members peanuts and doesn't pay U.S. taxes. The industry needs to start investing some of those tens of millions of dollars into substantial security to keep their guests safe. 

Have a comment? Please leave on below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

  

 

 

Photo Credit: USS Cole diagram - Reuters; bus explosion - AP via Yahoo Travel 

With Fingers Crossed, Cruise Lines Start Media Campaign to Downplay Threat of Terrorism

The cruise industry's favorite publication, Travel Weekly, just published an article titled After Tunis attack, Impact on Cruise Sales Pondered

The article speculates whether cruise sales will drop following the Islamic State's massacre of cruise passenger's in Tunis last week. 

In the last couple of years, first quarter "wave" sales were negatively impacted by the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012 and the Carnival Triumph "poop cruise" in February 2013. The article Tunis Tunisia Terrorsuggests that whereas the sinking and engine room fire could arguably be blamed on the cruise lines, the public is not likely to fault the cruise lines for the terror attack last week.

I disagree with that premise. Costa and MSC sailed into a country with a history of fighting between Tunisian solders and Al Qaeda resulting in dozen of soldiers killed and wounded over the last two years. Tunisian men have been recruited to train in ISIS camps in Libya. There had been prior attacks against a popular museum in Tunisia and a suicide bomber blew himself up in a hotel frequented by tourists. What did the cruise lines think would happen after Tunisians were radicalized and trained to use automatic weapons in Libya and then returned home? 

The public can easily conclude that the cruise lines sailed their guests into harm's way without warnings or any thought of providing security for the excursion buses.

But the cruise supporters are out in full force spinning the story to exculpate the cruise lines. 

Bud Darr, a mouthpiece for the Cruise Line International association (CLIA), argues that the terror attack against cruise passengers "was not targeted at cruise passengers."

Another CLIA representative said: "Cruise ships are a safe and secure place for our guests in the rare event of a shore side incident."  

The editor of Cruise Week, Mike Driscoll, spun the attack-on-cruise-passengers as not a "black eye" for cruising "because it's not the cruise lines' fault, and it didn't happen on a ship." 

Travel Weekly interviewed a travel agent who said “I think we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that this will not have a negative impact.”

Travel Weekly published statements from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) who claims that "cruise lines have worked for many years with security and law enforcement authorities around the world to ensure passenger safety." CLIA claims that it has procedures to provide “an immediate and effective response to any (security) incident.”

I don't believe it for a second.

The day before the attack the cruise executives were salivating over expanding their markets into North Africa and making greater profits. Their minds were on money, not security.  

Costa and MSC were caught flat-footed in Tunis. 

A former cruise line security chief was highly critical of the absence of any security for the Costa and MSC cruise passengers.  

CLIA and Travel publications like Travel Weekly will continue issuing statements and publishing stories claiming that cruise passengers are safe and sound in North Africa and the Middle East. But the specter of dead passengers certainly will scare customers away and drive down cruise sales, especially in the Mediterranean. If the cruise industry is going to cross its fingers, it better be in the hope that ISIS doesn't target a cruise ship. 

Have a thought? Please leave a message below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit: International Business Times  

Update on Terror Attack Against Cruise Tourists in Tunis

Cruising for Trouble As the death toll increases in Tunis, the former Director of Princess Cruises says that cruise security was lax and the cruise lines failed to assess the danger associated with sailing passengers into Tunis.

Commander Mark Gaouette told IHS Maritime that cruise security measures for passengers should have been stronger.

"I believe the risk management process failed to properly assess the extremely volatile situation in North Africa," he said.

". . . at a minimum, more security should have been required for that excursion in the form of armed police or military escort, and armed presence at the museum itself."

Commander Gaouette is the author of "Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists and Common Criminals."   

The death and injury tally ranges around 17 dead and 20 to 25 passengers injured.

I remain amazed that the Costa captain piloted the Costa Fascinosa out of the port in Tunis and left 13 passengers behind, not knowing whether they were dead or injured. I can't help but think of Costa Captain Schettino leaving passengers behind as he fled the sinking Concordia in Giglio. Do I have this wrong? To give the Fascinosa captain the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume that he may have been concerned that terrorists might attack the ship itself and slam RPG's into it's hull or gun their way up the gangway and look for hostages. In that sense, maybe it was prudent to escape the port as soon as possible, although it begs the question why Costa was there in the first place.    

MSC Cruises TunisYahoo Travel published an article titled How the Cruise Industry is Coping with ISIS Attacks on Passengers in Tunisia by Sid Lipsey / @sidlipsey. It includes comments which I made last month about the threat of terrorism in Tunis against cruise passengers. 

Why any cruise line would sail into Tunis is beyond me. In 2013 and 2014, many dozens of Tunisian soldiers were killed and even more injured in deadly attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda and other Islamic fighters, according to an article titled Terror and Politics in Tunisia in the publication World Affairs. Tunisia is a major recruiting ground for ISIS. Recruits are trained in Iraq, Syria or Libya and then return to Tunisia radicalized.    

Costa and MSC have stated that they will not call on Tunisia in the foreseeable future. To me that's like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, as the saying goes. Whether these cruise ships will actually stay away remains to be seen. We have seen cruise lines announce with great fanfare that they are leaving a Caribbean port after a cruise passenger or employee has been killed ashore. They always return after the media attention dies down.

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March 21 2015 Update: Is Cruising Safe? A Chilling Look at an Industry Under Seige - an article I wrote for Yahoo Travel.

 

Photo Credit: International Business Times 

 

Experts: ISIS Poses Terrorist Threat to Cruise Ships in Mediterranean

One question I am asked frequently is whether Islamic terrorists pose a threat to cruise ships. I received a couple of such inquiries in the last week. One from a mother in the U.K. whose son works on a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean, and another from the father of a family in the U.S. thinking about taking a cruise from Spain to France, Italy, Greece and Turkey and back.  

Yesterday several newspapers in Europe and the Middle East (Mail OnlineAl Arabiya News) interviewed experts who have painted the scenario of speed boats operated by Islamic State terrorists attacking "fishing boats, cruise ships [and] small merchant ships" to capture people and Cruise Ship Terrorismparade them in orange jumpsuits before a video with a knife to their neck.  

We have all seen the stories on CNN about the gruesome killing and beheading of innocent aid workers and journalists by ISIS in an effort to terrorize the televised world. In the last two weeks, we have also read stories about the barbaric burning-alive-in-a-cage of the Jordanian pilot and the beheading of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. We are, of course, all afraid to actually see the videos of the terrifying violence.

As we sit in front of the television in our homes here in the U.S., we all feel safe from the terrorists, don't we? The beheadings are, after all, over there, in foreign places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other unstable Arab countries.

But when U.S. citizens decide to fly to Europe and go on a cruise vacation with their family in the Mediterranean, are they placing themselves in harm's way?

In a word, yes.  

The thought of Muslim terrorists hijacking a cruise ship is hardly new. Achille Laura instantly comes to mind. Forcing terrified cruise ship hostages into orange suits and executing them? al Queda has already planned that just a couple of years ago. CNN would cover the terror non-stop. 

There are numerous studies by security companies and U.S. governmental organizations which have studied terrorist organizations and concluded that terrorism against cruise ships is likely.

Take a look at this chilling report by the RAND organization.

The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded several years ago that a likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers while terrorists kill passengers if demands are not met.

The issue has been discussed by a number of experts, including Commander Mark Gaouette who is the former director of security for Princess. He wrote a book "Cruising for Cruise Ship Terrorist AttackTrouble" which specifically addresses the potential of a cruise ship as a target for terrorists.

15 years ago, 17 U.S. service men and women were brutally murdered when Islamic suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship, the U.S. Cole.

If the U.S. Navy can't protect its military fleet, what chances do thousands of U.S. tourists think they have of staying safe on a gigantic U.S. based cruise ship floating like a sitting duck in the harbor of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt?

ISIS has already taken over port cities in Libya, which is strategically located in the middle of North Africa. It would be easy for ISIS to launch a suicide jihad-by-sea against cruise ships sailing to or from North Africa and the Middle East.

Jihadists are already "using cruise ships to sneak into war zones" says the Maritime Executive. The fear is that the radicals will shift their focus to making the ship itself the war zone.

Families thinking of cruising in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska) may be reasonably safe from an ISIS attack. A terrorist attack seems extremely unlikely to happen in the Caribbean. But sailing into a port in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt on a cruise ship? It's not a matter of if. It's just a matter of when. 

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March 3, 2015 Update: The Gatestone Institute (International Policy Council) published ISIS Sets Sights on the Mediterranean which mentions Cruise Law News.

Photo Credit: Reuters via Mail Online 

Are Jihadists Sailing on Cruise Ships?

The Associated Press (AP) reports that jihadi fighters are increasingly buying tickets on cruise ships to join extremists in battle zones in Syria and Iraq.

The AP states that jihadists are trying to bypass travel restrictions in neighboring Turkey.

According to the AP, Turkey says that it has been deporting hundreds of terrorists caught in airports and bus stations.  But there are some 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries traveling to the Middle East to fight for extreme Islamic causes. 

The BBC reports that Islamic militants are using of cruise ships "more and more."

The AP quotes outgoing Interpol chief Ronald Noble as saying:

"Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships - dangerous people on cruise ships - really al Qauda Cruise Shipfocused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar, or violent criminal. But as we've gathered data, we've realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will - sort of closer to the conflict zones - of Syria and Iraq."

Terrorism is a concern for any kind of international travel. The current news does not suggest an attack by such groups on cruise ships but there is historical evidence of such attacks. We have written about plans uncovered two years ago by al Qaeda to seize cruise ships and dress passengers in orange jump suits and execute them. Three decades ago, Arab terrorists killed cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro cruise ship and a decade ago our U.S. Navy lost several dozen sailors who were blown up during the attack on the U.S.S. Cole by an al Qaeda group.

 

Photo Credit: CNN