Pirates - Cruise ShipRecently, there have been a number of articles published about preparing cruise ships for attacks by pirates as the ships pass through the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb into and out of the Gulf of Aden.

Cruise blogger Danielle Fear published, via Cruise Critic, an article yesterday titled Blackout on Black Watch: Pirates, Razor Wire and Water Cannons on a Fred. Olsen Cruise. Ms. Fear is currently sailing on the 108-night “Wonders of the World” cruise onboard Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch around the “horn of Africa through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, where piracy is still rampant and razor wire is added to the handrails ….” It is interesting to read her first hand account of security teams boarding the ship to prepare the passengers for pirates attacks as the ships begins to pass Somalia and Yemen. Although she states that “it is rare for them to approach cruise ships,” Mr. Fear included a photo of razor wire on the rails along the entire length of the Promenade Deck installed to act as a deterrent to pirates boarding the ship.

The passengers reportedly are required to attend mandatory “safe haven” drills to learn “where to go and what to do” in the event of a pirate attack.

A tabloid newspaper published an article earlier in the week describing how “a “crack team” boarded the Queen Mary 2 as it sailed through the “treacherous” Gulf of Aden. It appears that the Queen Mary 2 wasn’t lined with barb wire, like the Black Watch, but the article mentioned that it was equipped with water cannons and sonic devices to keep the pirates at bay.

These articles remind me of a photograph in an article in the Telegraph eight years ago about the Discovery cruise ship, operated by Discover the World cruise line, which reportedly confronted a Cruise Ship - Pirate - Terrorism Somali speedboat as the ship sailed from Mombasa towards the Seychelles Islands. The ship was equipped with “rolls of razor wire all over the stern rail (and) bundles of logs to be released to fall on any craft attaching itself to our hull.”

Look at the photo closely and you will notice barb wire and logs tied below the rails as well as a bundle of logs hoisted near the starboard/stern, positioned to be dropped on any skiffs which approach the cruise ship.

You can see “vessel hardening tactics” by a security firm here.

Barb wire, water cannons and sonic devices may work against pirates, but I would be more concerned with Houthi rebel missiles while attempting to pass Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb . . .

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Photo credits: Pirates Attacking the Seabourn Spirit off the coast of Somalia – AP via Telegraph; Discovery cruise ship -Richard Snailham via Telegraph

An explosion aboard a Mexican ferry in Playa del Carmen ten days ago, followed by at least one explosive device planted on the hull of another ferry which was discovered yesterday, triggered a United States embassy’s alert last night, prohibiting embassy employees from using ferries operating between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo.

On February 21, 2018, we reported on a violent explosition on a ferry in Playa del Carmen which seriously injured around 25 passengers, includuing 7 U.S. citizens. The explosion on the Barcos Caribe, which has been operating a Playa del Carmen-Cozumel route, injured passengers as they were disembarking from the ferry to the dock. Mexican authorities initially said that the explosion was the result of a Carmen del Playa - Cozumel Warning Explosive Devices mechanical malfunction; however, news sources are now reporting that the explosion was the result of an explosive device.     

This news comes after a second device was located on another ferry in Cozumel also owned by the Barcos Caribe company, which provides regular service to toruists between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. A Mexican newspaper article contains a photograph of one of the explosive devices attached to the hull of a ferry. According to news accounts, Barcos Caribe is associated with former Quintana Roo Governor Roberto Borge Angulo who acquired the ferry line while he was still in office. After leaving office, Borge became a fugitive and was later captured in Panama. 

Roberto Borge Martín was apparently on board the first ferry at the time of the February 21 explosion, although the was reportedly uninjured. 

A Mexican drug cartel recently claimed responsibility for the explosion. According to a news source, the Cártel de “El Pumba” y “Tata,” associated with the Los Zetas drug cartel, threatened blow up the home of the current mayor of Carmen del Playa.

At least one cruise line, Princess Cruises, has cancelled excursions which use ferries between Playa del Carmen and Cancun. A copy of a letter dated today from Princess to cruise passengers on the Royal Princess sailing to Mexico arriving to Cozumel is above to the right.  The Princess letter to its guests on the Royal Princess states that "we strongly advise that ferries to the mainland be avoided." 

The violent ferry explosition injurying U.S. tourists is an ominous reminder of the often violent and dangerous state of the Mexican tourism industry. 

Meanwhile the Ministry of Tourism for State of Quintana Roo in Mexico is issuing press releases where it claims that there is "no risk" to tourists when visiting Cozumel. 

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Video credit: El Pais YouTube  

https://youtube.com/watch?v=ys187GcxNbg%3Frel%3D0

Bloomberg published an article today titled Why the Cruise Industry Is Booming in the Middle East.

The lighthearted article casually mentions that passengers on the "fancy, all-inclusive Seabourn Encore were enjoying martinis and opera around the pool" off the coast of Somalia "where pirates occasionally hijack cargo ships" when an alarm sounded indicating that a small motorboat approached their cruise ship. "Onto the cruise ship climbed several burly security guards with cases of ‘conventional weapons,’ which would provide, as the captain explained, an added layer of protection for a potentially tricky passage."

The article states  that a week later, near Abu Dhabi, another alarm sounded, signaling the arrival ofMiddle East Cruise another boat. The small boat was stocked with tins of caviar and champagne for the cruise ship guests to enjoy "in the warm surf of a private beach."

The rest of the article didn’t mention the risk of encountering pirates, and there was no mention of the danger of terrorism. Instead, the article was filled with stories of wonderful exotic getaways into Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat where, the articles says, luxury travelers from an Azamara cruise ship on an excursion ashore spent "a night in Louis Vuitton tents set up in a Bedouin community in the desert."  The publication also talks about visiting "opulent mosques and labyrinthine souks" and enjoying camel rides in the desert as part of the cultural immersion and authentic experiences of the Middle East.   

The article characterized the Middle East as a "goldmine" in the eyes of the cruise lines, given the lucrative excursions and the cruise lines’ ability to move their European fleets to the Middle East in winter.  

But the article misses the mark by ignoring the risk of cruise ship passengers being victims of terrorism.   

Several dozens of cruise passengers from cruise ships operated by MSC and Costa were slaughtered by terrorists visiting a museum in Tunis two years ago.   

In the last year, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen rebels attacked a naval ship from the United Arab Emirates and a frigate from U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia off the western coast of Yemen. Videos of the attacks show large explosions which were believed to be the result of a missile strike Cruise Red Sea Missle Attack Houhti Yemenand/or a suicide mission by another vessel.

The attacks occurred in the southern part of the Red Sea, north of the Bah Al-Mandab straits which is a pinch-point between the Red Sea, flanked by Saudi Arabia on the east and Egypt to the west, and the Gulf of Aden to the south. Cruise ships sailing to and from the Mediterranean and to or from the Indian Sea pass through these straits.

In the last few days, Shia rebels in Yemen have launched long range missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, illustrating the continuing dangers in that area of the world.  

Security guards with a few conventional weapons may be able to fend off pirates attempting to board a cruise ship trying to run the Bah Al-Mandab straits, but they will be useless if the Houthi rebels intentionally target a cruise ship sailing in the Red Sea, or mistakenly believe that a cruise ship is a U.S.-backed Saudi or UAE naval ship.

Considering the dangers, the intrigue of visiting the Middle East does not seem to be worth the risk.  

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Photo credits: Top – Bloomberg via Seaborn; bottom – Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station shows launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia’s King Khaled Airport. – Houthi Military Media Unit via Reuters and CBC.

Bomb Scare Caribbean PrincessThis morning, a person aboard the Caribbean Princess notified me that there is a bomb scare aboard the cruise ship, which is at the Grand Bahama shipyard. The worker stated:

“I am currently on board the Caribbean Princess in the Grand Bahama Shipyard where today a bomb threat was called in to the shipyard. The ship performed a complete check and at 10 am the captain gave the abandon ship order. The ship has been evacuated and all contractors and crew were mustered outside the shipyard. We are awaiting further instructions.

Have a good day because my day and thousands others are having a bad day.

We were mustered away from the shipyard and were told no pictures.”

The Caribbean Princess is in dry dock for general maintenance. Many thousands of contractors and crew members are now re-locating to Port Lucaya.

The worker also stated:

“Of course the Bahamian taxis are making a fortune off off this event. It’s funny to see crew members in uniform strolling around . . .

I can report that very few police were present and one ambulance. No bomb squad or dogs were visible.

A lot of work has now been delayed due to this and a lot of frustration is in the air . . . ”

The Carnival Pride and Carnival Ecstasy are in port in Freeport today, as well as the Anna Maersk which is at the container port across from the shipyard.  There is no indication whether these ships were the subject of this bomb threat.

The question which immediately comes to my mind is whether the Bahamian police are competent to handle the response to a major security threat like this?

There have been bomb threats against cruise ships in the past, and they are usually determined to be pranks. A drunken Carnival passenger who made a bomb threat on the Carnival Sensation was arrested several years ago after a cruise to the Bahamas which was later determined to be a hoax. The Discovery cruise ship received a bogus bomb threat as the ship was en route to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale after sailing to the Bahamas. A bomb was reportedly planted on the Liberty of the Seas several years ago as well, although nothing was found by law enforcement officers. A bomb scare forced the evacuation of the cruise terminal at the port of Miami.  Passengers and crew members had to flee a ferry in Marseilles, France last year after a bomb scare.

April 1, 2017 Update: The popular Crew-Center website has additional information and photographs and video of crew members and contrators leaving the ship, congregating at the shipyard and leaving the shipyard.

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Image credit: Marine Traffic

CBS New York aired a short special last night titled Elite NYPD Team Protects City From Dirty Bombs, Waterborne Threats.

The video focused on the efforts of a special unit of the NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Division which concentrates on protecting the hundreds of cruise ships and other maritime vessels which enter and leave the ports of New York and New Jersey each year.

The special begins with the Norwegian Gem returning in the predawn hours to New York after ten days at sea. Unbeknownst to the passengers, the NCL cruise ship was being swept for a dirty bomb before it entered the port. 

The New York anti-terrorism team reportedly uses radiation detection devices and sonar to scan the ships and docks for explosive devices.

The special briefly discusses the deadly attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and the last month’s suicide attack on a Saudi Arabian frigate, both occurring in the Red Sea near Yemen, which we have mentioned several times in other articles. 

The CBS crew interviewed the CEO, Dan Richards, of a security company called Global Rescue, which CBS says provides crisis response and evacuation options to travelers. Mr.Richards mentions that that "ISIS and other terrorist organizations are planning these kinds of operations.” This is a sentiment expressed by several U.S. naval commanders in the recent past. Read: Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century by Captain Robert N. Hein, U.S. Navy.

Many travelers may be comforted by these security measures in New York and other major seaports like Miami and elsewhere. But, at the same time, the special underscores the lack of security in ports of call outside of the U.S., in places like the Caribbean and North Africa, where the port countries lack the resources to implement sophisticated anti-terrorism plans.

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Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi frigate off the western coast of Yemen earlier this week. Video of the attack shows a large explosion near the stern of the ship, which was originally believed to be the result of a missile strike. It was later determined to be a suicide attack involving several small vessels.

The attack occurred in the southern part of the Red Sea, north of the Bah Al-Mandab straits which is a pinch-point between the Red Sea, flanked by Saudi Arabia on the east and Egypt to the west, and the Gulf of Aden to the south. Cruise ships sailing to and from the Mediterranean and to or from the Indian Sea pass through these straits.

In the video below  a voice narrating the attack shouts in Arabic, "Allah Akbar" followed by “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to the Jews.”

According to one U.S. network, U.S. defense analysts believe that the attack was intended for an U.S. naval vessel or that this was a “dress rehearsal” similar to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, which was being refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000 when a suicide boat loaded with explosives attacked the U.S. ship and blew up. The terrorist attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured 39 more. 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=3SCEZImP_9Y%3Frel%3D0

Four months ago, the Houthi rebels launched a similar missile attack against an United Arab Emirates (UAE} ship in the waters of Yemen near the straits of Bah Al-Mandab.

On October 1, 2016, Houthi rebels destroyed an Emirati vessel near the the Red Sea port city of Mokha.The Houthi rebels reportedly used a sophisticated Chinese anti-ship missile. The naval ship which was attacked was a high speed vessel ("HSV"), named the HSV 2 Swift. The ship was formerly operated by the U.S. Navy and recently had been leased to the UAE. There is a dispute whether the vessel was a civilian craft carrying humanitarian aid or an UAE navy vessel.

The Houthi (Shia) rebel group has been in armed conflict with the more moderate and Saudi Arabian backed Sunni government in Yemen. The U.S backs the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in their conflict against Yemen.

These attacks demonstrate the considerable danger posed to shipping in the Middle East by Shia militant groups, apparently supplied by Iran with sophisticated weapons. ISIS and al-Qu’ida operate in Yemen. 

Cruise ships routinely transit through the straits of Bah Al-Mandab. Many cruise ships transit through these straits at night without lights to avoid detection. 

Several U.S. naval experts and commanders as well as senior NATO officers have recently expressed their surprise that ISIS has not attacked cruise ships in the Middle East.

You can see photographs of the dramatic damage to the NSV 2 here.

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Interested in this issue? Consider reading: With a threat from terrorists and pirates ever-present, are there choppy waters ahead for cruise ship security

Istanbul TurkeyTwo coordinated bombings in Istanbul, Turkey killed 38 people and wounded 155 others yesterday. News reports report that the bombings were committed by a Turkey-based Kurdish militant group, identified in the New York Times as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK. Others said that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, were behind the bombings. The TAK claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The first explosion was caused by a car bomb, a common terrorist method associated with other bombings in Turkey, near police special forces at the exit of a soccer stadium exit. The car was reportedly loaded with almost nine hundred pounds of explosives. Shortly thereafter, a suicide bomber triggered explosives in a nearby park.

Last week USA TODAY  announced that three Carnival Corporation brands, Cunard, Holland America Line and P&O Cruises canceled all calls to Turkey for the upcoming year (2017).

Earlier this year, ISIS suicide bombers attacked the Ataturk airport in Istanbul with powerful devices that killed over 40 people and injured several hundred others. There have been at least nine serious terror attacks in Turkey dating over a year.

This last July, President Erdogad’s declared a state of emergency following a failed military coup. Many people were concerned that tourists would be frightened to travel to Turkey following the harsh steps taken by President Erdogad against dissidents.

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises ended a number of stops in Turkey this year, primarily in Kusadasi, following the unrest in Turkey this summer. But a number of smaller lines, like Azamara, Silversea, Star Clippers, Celestyal Cruises and TUI called on some ports in Turkey. 

Many American tourists have shied away from the eastern Mediterranean this year as a cruise destination because of an influx of refugees from Syria and the threat of Islamic terrorists.  

The U.S. State Department previously ordered the departure of family members of employees in the U.S. Istanbul TurkeyConsulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. The State Department warns "U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country."

The U.K. travel advisory cautions against travel against "to within 10 km of the border with Syria and to the city of Diyarbakir," but states that "it’s generally safe to travel to Turkey, but you should take additional safety precautions." The U.K., whose diplomatic missions in Turkey continue to operate as normal, points out that "British nationals made over 2.4 million visits to Turkey in 2015."

On Friday, in an article titled Terrorist Suspect Arrested on Cruise Ship, a Cayman Islands newspaper reported that a German-Turkish man who was arrested on a cruise ship Thursday on an Interpol warrant appeared in court facing potential extradition to Turkey for alleged terrorist offenses. The report claimed that the cruise passenger was engaged in terrorist activities relating to the PKK/ACK Kurdish separatist groups over 25 years ago. 

Photo credit: Murad Sezer / Reuters via NBC News (top); BJK Television (bottom).

December 15, 2016 Update: Why you may visit Albania, not Turkey, on some 2017 cruises.

Bruges Brussels Belgium Today, I received a copy of an advisory which the staff of P&O’s Britannia distributed to passengers aboard the cruise ship, prior to disembarking in Bruges, advising them of the existence of a possible threat associated with "extremist activity in Belgium."  

The advisory of today’s date, from the master of the cruise ship, says in pertinent part:

"As your safety and security is always of prime concern to us on-board Britannia, I would like to advise you of the existence of a possible threat associated with extremist activity in Belgium.  While it is not our wish to concern you, due to recent events, it would be similarly irresponsible of us not to make you aware of localised security concerns.

We would like to remind you to remain vigilant in all public areas, avoid demonstrations and report anything suspicious to the local authorities.

If you are planning to travel to Brussels independently, we would recommend that you are particularly alert in places where there is a high concentration of people."  

The cruise line advisory mirrors the official U.K. advice for Belgium, which states:

"There is a high threat from terrorism and the Belgians assess this to be a serious and real threat (level 3). Police operations are ongoing and there have been a number of police raids and arrests, including on 17 June 2016, relating to past and potential terrorist attacks.

There have been a number of high profile terrorist attacks across Belgium. On 6 August 2016, 2 police officers were attacked with a machete in the city of Charleroi. On 22 March 2016 co-ordinated terrorist attacks killed 32 and injured hundreds more at Brussels Zavantem airport and on the metro system."  

The UK advisory is similar to the U.S. travel statement which states that another terrorist attack is "probable." 

This Britannia advisory seems like a prudent warning in this day and age.  The Britannia is now sailing back to Southampton after a day in Bruges.

Britannia Travel Warning   

 

Cruise Ship Drug BustThe 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 Cruise Ship Drug Bustsame 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

Photo credit: Top – Department of Immigration and Border Protection via Sydney Morning Herald; bottom – Jonathan Ng via the Daily Telegraph.  

 

Cruise Ship TerrorismAre cruise ships prepared for the threat of terrorism?

As I have contended for a long time, in my opinion no.

Cruise lines are still calling on dangerous ports. They are still sending passengers on unescorted shore excursions in buses without armed security personnel. Cruise ships can’t prevent terrorists from overpowering their unarmed security guards on most cruise ships and running up the gangways. (Some European cruise lines, like Costa, have weapons).

Few lines are conducting anti-terrorist drills. The rare anti-terrorism training drill conducted by local and federal agencies are not even conducted on cruise ships.  Few lines have installed automatic man overboard alarms which have the capability to also detect when unauthorized people come over the rails onto the ship. And what can a cruise line do once terrorists gets onto the ship? Security guards are barely able to even break up bar fights.  

I received an interesting comment the other day from a reader who said that cruise ships should use muster drills to educate passengers what do to if there is a terrorist attack during a cruise. What is the protocol for a passenger if terrorists enter the ship?  Go to your cabins, hunker down and hope for the best? Try and overwhelm the attackers? Try and escape via lifeboats? Who knows?

Yesterday, a number of newspapers from the U.K. and France reported on a drill which involved a ferry from England to France where armed military personnel boarded the ferry via speedboats and a helicopter.

The Mirror explained that "fears have arisen over the threat of armed militants launching an attack on a ferry and executing passengers or detonating a suicide bomb."

These type of security drills are important. But they seem to underscore that few cruise ships are making an effort to conduct such exercises, seemingly to avoid frightening the guests.

I have reported many times about the warnings from senior military leaders in the U.S. and Europe regarding the threat against the cruise industry posed by ISIS. Just last month, the Miami-Dade County Police Department said: “We ended up concluding that now they’re targeting the cruise industry. We’re the cruise capital of the world. It’s the same possibility of having two planes crash into the World Trade Center.”

Several media sources in Europe are saying that armed sea marshals are planned for ferries, at least heading to and from France. It’s time for U.S. based cruise lines to employ armed guards on their cruise ships.

Interested in this issue?  Read: How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen.

Video credit: Mirror; Photo Credit: YouTube/DFMagazine via the Mirror.