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. 

Have a thought? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

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 

  • John Goldsmith

    I have read a few novels that this or a similar event takes place. The concept is well within the realms of writers, why not planners.
    Now, realistically, the cruise lines when they are aware of dangers in a region would most likely refrain from going there. That does not remove the potential danger and threat that we have been seeing in the news.
    In searching for cruise destinations, I always look at the Danger factor for each. Hence, I won’t be going to the Caribbean any time soon.
    ISIS will plan and execute attacks where the outrage and damage will get the headlines.
    I wonder what sort of scenario that ALL Cruise providers have made plans for. Will they be similar to the one made by Merchant carriers?

  • Ramin

    Good day Mr. Walker,

    You wrote in your article:
    “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.”

    Why do you think it is unlikely that an attack can happen i the Caribbean? From my point of view, an attack in the Caribbean is just as imaginable as in the Mediterranean. And because (most of) the island has an single pillar economy, they will be hit harder.

    I am looking forward to your response.

    Kind regards,

  • Tracy Smith

    My daughter is doing cruise October to middle east . going to Spain then cruise goes to Greece, turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Djibouti. I don’t feel its safe.

  • armentha

    I plan to take a cruise going from the port of Athens, Greece to Mykonos, Rhodes and another Greek island before it goes to Ephesus then Istanbul, Turkey. Is it safe to travel from Athens to Turkey? Thanks!

  • Marie

    We are planning a cruise to Italy, Greece and Turkey. In a couple of weeks. Because of Turkeys situation, the cruise ship as eliminated Turkey as one on the ports to visit. We will spend time in Crete and Athens. We could stay home and feel safe, but we are in our 70s and would like to see a little of the world. We don’t want to live in fear, and never leave our home. There are areas in the U.S. That because of homeland terrorist, such as gangs or areas that protect the criminal like SF we are hesitant to visit. So all we can do is try to be as safe as we can and live our lives for the moment.

  • Ron keats

    Was wondering whether the European river cruise operators have detected a substantial drop in sales in light of terrorist attacks. In fact, do cruise lines operate internal security agencies or other means of repelling a direct attack from crazed jihadists?

  • pamela rees

    we are cruising to portugal tenerife las palmas spain arreciiffe casablanca lisbon will it be safe please let us know

  • Charlie young

    I, a veteran, have not many years left, will fight back any attack, to die a hero.

  • Deborah Beament

    Well I just received an email from our cruising travel agent. We have in fact been re routed. We are no longer going to Turkey. I thank god. A year and a bit ago we were not worried about ISSIS. This is when we booked the trip. I honestly considered cancelling and losing my deposit. But today our cruise lines is worried enough to send us to a better spot. I could not be happier.
    I try not to think about these things and live life normally however it is becoming the norm to hear about attacks. Why not a cruise ship?
    Good luck to all who have loved ones going places that seem unsafe. I wish you well.



  • Passenger Ferries & Cruse Ships Await a Major Catastrophe in 2016.

  • Ann Furber

    I have always thought how easy it would be for a boatload of these terrorist to pose as refugees stranded out in the middle of the ocean and a cruise ship picking them up as an humanitarian act. What a captive audience they would have once on board and imagine how many people would be killed or injured if they had bombs strapped to their bodies? Maybe I just have an active imagination but still, it is within the realms of possibility, isn’t it?

  • Peter

    Well, 2015 has come and gone, and so has 2016, but I’ve not heard of any terrorist attack on ships in the Greek islands. I guess the risk is pretty evenly distributed world-wide. Paris, Boston, San Bernardino . . . Where are you really 100% safe?

  • Francesca

    I feel very strongly….some ships ships carry 6,000 people…A bomb on board would do much more damage than a rental truck in London or Paris has….soft targets floating in one big inescapable boat…