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.

If you have a comment, please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

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

  • Sally Watkins, CTC

    I do think it was prudent for the ship to depart ASAP. And I’d bet local Costa handlers in Tunis were on the lookout for any passengers who came back looking for the ship.

  • Ummmm…notice that this article from yesterday indicated that Princess, too, was planning stops in Tunis this year.

    “In addition to Costa and MSC, Princess, Holland America, P&O International and Oceania are among the lines that have stops planned in Tunis during this year’s Mediterranean sailings.”

  • Paola

    Well, by my experience, the ship departure before 2 pm was Head Office’s order as they were completely involved with the operation after the attack happened. Most likely was not only the Captains decision, different from Schettino.

  • Maria

    Its a shame, I’ve done that port as crew many times in the past, they were doing the rebuilt of the new port, and there was genuine oldies hand working in the pier, nice people! really, is a poor country we all know, and very sad for all losses, specially the Colombians who got killed mom and son, survived dad and daughter, hard

  • Axel Krack

    Hmmm, what’s left in the mediterranean sea ??? Nothing at North African costline, including Israel (missile attack), Turkey. Also the black sea….., and Morocco ??? Cape Verdes islands…? Well, the cruise liners world is getting smaller and smaller.

    How is is crisis mangement of a cruise line structured? For safety reason they don’t published it. If a plan is existing….. The cruise liner passenger is still a soft target, if he’s leaving the ship on excursions – everywhere, everytime. Especially if you are a US, Israelian citizen.

  • Cynthia

    On our last Holland-America cruise, we were told by one of the staff that there was a mosque below for the Muslim employees. It is impossible to know what is being loaded onto the ships at each and every port and I believe it is a matter of when — not if — a ship is destroyed at sea by onboard terrorists, most likely employed by the cruise line itself.

  • Mary

    I’m sorry Jim but I think it was in very poor taste to compare the Captain of the Fascinosa with Schettino. Schettino was a coward who abandoned his ship, passengers and crew. This captain, on the other hand, did absolutely the right thing to get out of there and ensure the safety of those almost 5000 pax/crew onboard, though it was unlikely that it was a decision that fell to him alone. You end your paragraph saying that it begs the question of why Costa was there in the first place. Well, that’s a whole other point. If you wanted to stress that point, do it directly. Don’t muddy the conversation by taking stabs at the Captain and comparing him to someone that is an embarrassment to the industry (Schettino). Come on, you’re a lawyer. You should know better. Stay on point!

  • Captain Colin Smith

    I’m getting the feeling that Captains (Masters) are being relegated to glorified bus-drivers by an endless stream of company helpers who happily do not share any responsibility but claim an inordinate share of expertise.Questions like “What did the Master know, when diid he know it”, etc would fill this section. If I had been in his shoes, was not fully informed of the dangers ashore and was not advised of the size of the threat to the rest of his passengers, I would have sailed too,if only to lie off the port and await developments. If he knew that a number of his passengers were killed or injured, there would be nothing he could do for them, so it was prudent and risk averse to place his ship out of reach of whatever was developing ashore. Raising the gangway alongside would still leave his ship and passengers exposed to injury, fire or attack by unknown numbers of terrorists. Had the 13 passengers been lost but not injured, and the terrorist attack taken place, he would have been confronted with the choice between waiting for them to show up and risk damage and injury to the ship and it’s complement alongside, or wait as long as he could, but eventually sail, or sail immediately and protect the ship and company. He would perhaps anticipate that the terrorists may have RPG’s available, which will easily go through an aluminium superstructure and cause fire and damage, and he would therefore want to get out of range. It is not an attractive decision to confront, but it seems he did the right thing. The Master had no authority or jurisdiction ashore, so he would have had to leave the 13 lost passengers to the local authorities and company representatives. It is easy to second-guess, but if you do, at least spend a little time’walking in his moccasins’.

  • Captain Smith:

    Thanks for the insight.

    My question remains – why was the cruise ship in that port in the first place? Does the captain have any input in choosing that port? Probably not. CEO Del Rio of NCL says he hand picks the ports himself. He thinks the North African ports are “lucrative” in his words. He actually said that in front of a packed cruise trade show last week.

    The risk of terrorist attack was foreseeable. There were prior suicide bombers, an attack against another museum in Tunisia, al Queda battles with Tunisian solders in the last 2 years, and young Tunisian men recruited from mosques in Tunis and trained in Libya.

    Shouldn’t cruise itineraries be scheduled with input of vessel masters rather than financial dreams of cruise CEO’s?

  • Geoff D.

    Princess has cancelled Emerald Princess calls to Tunis including their June 1 Visit, But are still planning to call in on their 11th June stop on Emerald Princess, Why aren’t they cancelling this call also?