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. 

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

  • was chief security

    Dear Sir,
    I was chief security on cargo and passengers ships , and what is here on your post it is only the stage of the beginning .
    The all maritime business and particularly passengers ship is not secure at all . The owners of the company’s saving money and they pay for low protection and not enough number of team member on each ship .
    From my experience with the industry is that every owner of the company have sum connection with company provides an HR and they take eny one for the job this company send the ppl to the ship and they forget you there they won’t quit on the ship no problems from that ship .
    I was working totally different and I whose fighting with the Hotel manager because he won’t to reduce the level of security .
    I was making in every port security check to the passengers and crew every port security check of the dock terminal busses for the excursions and transfer busses to the city during to port times all the time tender boot in the see side patrolling on the see side all the time checking the port security checks in the terminal .
    In every port good connections with secret service , police , interpol division , hospital , fire department .
    Before every port checking the expectations list of embarkation passengers and crew . And sending all list to the interpol for dabble check .
    I trained the crew staff on the check in points in the terminals for how and what to look in the passports of the passengers and to call me in case of suspects .
    And Mach more what I was doing but chiefs security in global not do so
    and usually the level of security staff are very low .
    and because of all this only the time going to says what is going to be.

  • Steve Johnson

    Each ship needs to have a small police unit sailing on board at all times. It must have the authority and sanction of the FBI and Interpol. They should carry non-lethal weapons and have access to guns in the event of terrorism. They should be recruited from police forces and military units, and they must be funded by Congress. The sooner the better.