Today noted maritime historian, mariner, and host of the popular maritime YouTube page “What’s Going On With Shipping?” Sal Mercogliano  posted a reference to the Crystal Symphony sailing the Red Sea:

Yes, the Crystal Cruises ship actually transited the dangerous Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and sailed through the Red Sea where Houthi rebels previously fired missiles and struck commercial vessels. The Houthis in Yemen have exerted control of Red Sea to the west and the Gulf of Aden to the south by attacking commercial vessels in the area. Yemen’s Houthis have targeted a large number of ships owned or operated by the U.S. and/or Israelis companies or ships they determine are heading to Israel using cruise missiles, drones, and anti-ship ballistic missiles.

One of the first ships targeted was the Galaxy Leader, controlled by an Israeli shipping magnate, which the Houthis boarded and sailed to Yemen. YouTube videos have been widely circulated showing Houthi forces hijacking the Galaxy Leader ship via helicopter and holding its crew at gunpoint on the Red Sea.

The attack by the Houthis was a well orchestrated military exercise and a far cry from a skiff operated by Somali pirates at sea.

The Houthis’ attacks on commercial shipping has included vessels unrelated to Israel and have included ships not owned by Israeli or U.S. companies. Around 60 ships have been attacked by the Houthis, one UK-owned cargo ship sunk and three mariners have been killed.

In response to my inquiry on Twitter where I asked Crystal Cruises “WTF?” the cruise line tweeted that the Crystal Symphony was allegedly sailing without passengers on a repositioning voyage to the Mediterranean. It also claims that it was “escorted by U.S. Navy as standard precautionary measure.”

I first inquired about the risks presented to the over 500 crew members who were in fact on this cruise ship.

I also asked Crystal Cruises for the name of the U.S. warship which allegedly escorted the cruise ship past the dangerous straits between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. (Crystal ignored the inquiry prompting me today to make a Freedom of Information request for the information from the U.S. Navy). If the U.S. Navy was really involved, why on earth would a U.S. military vessel find itself escorting a non-commercial vessel, particularly a pleasure cruise ship flagged in the Bahamas? Why should U.S. sailors risk their lives protecting a vacation cruise ship flying the Bahamian flag?

The question also arises what, if anything, did Crystal Cruises pay the U.S. Navy for the extraordinary services of a U.S. military escort of a Bahamian flagged cruise ship through this dangerous area?

At least one other cruise ship recently sailed through these highly dangerous waters. I learned through a Twitter post that Ponant Cruises’ La Champlain cruise yacht was sailing through the Red Sea today:

We have received no indication whether the Ponant yacht was sailing with passengers or was under military escort.

Cruise lines have the alternative to avoid the Red Sea and the risk of a Houthi attack, but some companies appear to be motivated by avoiding the cost and inconvenience of sailing around South Africa. Financially strapped lines, like Crystal Cruises, which we last reported on two years ago when it was avoiding creditors and having its ships seized before it finally filed for bankruptcy, fits squarely in this category. Risking injury or death to its crew members obviously were not important considerations to Crystal Cruises.

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April 3, 2024 Update:

@NoamRaydan, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute (a think tank studying American interests in the Middle East) reported on Twitter yesterday that the Crystal Symphony came under attack when it was sailing in the Red Sea, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO)

The UKMTO stated that the Master of the Crystal Symphony reported that “they were hailed by an entity claiming to be the Yemini Navy who requested that the vessel turn on its AIS (Automatic Information System). Shortly after the hailing, a crew member of the vessel reported that they heard suspected gun shots.” (The incident reportedly occurred at night).

This totally contradicts Crystal Cruises’ claim that the U.S. Navy escort was a “standard precautionary measure” or that the voyage was “safely and successfully” completed.

Image credit: Map of attacks – HAARETZ; La Champlain – Ponant Cruises; Crystal Symphony Bahnfrend – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; Galaxy Leader – Mail Online; data and map image of Houthi attacks on Crystal Symphony and commercial vessels – the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and NoamRaydan, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute.