The 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 same 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.