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.

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

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.

 

 

Blue MosqueThere are mixed messages about cruising to Turkey, following a spate of terrorist attacks in the last six months and the failed military coup two weeks ago.

A number of cruise lines stopped calling on Turkey following the June 29th ISIS-inspired terrorist attack at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul when three suicide bombers exploded powerful devices that killed over 40 people and injured over 230 others. This latest attack came after at least eight terror attacks in Turkey dating back a year.

On July 15th, a coup led by some military officers failed. President Erdogad responded by engaging in what the New York Times is calling a "widespread purge, jailing and suspending tens of thousands of state employees . . . " The Times further notes that "the military that has long served as a unifying force for the country is deeply divided, diminished and discredited." 

The U.S. State Department "warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey. In light of the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting potential for interruptions to travel and daily life, we suggest U.S. citizens reconsider travel to Turkey at this time."

The Maritime Executive published an article yesterday stating that even before the failed revolt, terrorist attacks had prompted cruise operators to reduce their stops in Turkey. But the July 15th coup attempt caused cruise lines to cut back further on scheduled port calls in Istanbul and other Turkish ports. It quoted a travel agent stating that "I would not feel comfortable sending people on holiday in the next few months. [The coup attempt] is more damaging for tourism than the terror attacks.” 

But other publications are suggesting that the cruise business in Turkey has already bounced back to what it was before the coup attempt. The Turkish Daily Sabah says that a representative of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) reported that the failed coup attempt caused only "slight losses" in Turkey’s cruise tourism sector.  According to the Daily Sabah, Cihangir Canıyılmaz, the marketing director of Royal Caribbean in Turkey, said that shortly after the coup attempt, that the cruise line canceled 46 cruise voyages to Kuşadasi and five voyages to Bodrum until the end of year. However, he claims that Royal Caribbean has resumed cruises to Turkey on July 20th, following President Erdogad’s declaration of the state of emergency on July 20th, and the number of tourists in the country remains high.

Whether that is true or just wishful thinking by the tourist people in Turkey, it is concerning that the Turkish military, which has been an ally of the U.S. in fighting terrorism and in curtailing the threat of ISIS, is now diminished. The military in Turkey was also vital in "controlling the migrant tide that has overwhelmed Europe," as the Times puts it.

Turkey is a beautiful country with a spectacular history and architecture, filled with warm and friendly people. It is a wonderful place to visit. But with its recent history of ISIS terrorist attacks and migrants at sea and ashore, cruising to Turkey may cause a prudent traveler to pause and reconsider. 

Photo of Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque: By Dersaadet – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.  

Photo of Istanbul credit:  By Ben Morlok – Istanbul panorama, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Istanbul TerrorTerrorism hit the Atataturk airport in Istanbul last night as three suicide bombers exploded powerful devices that killed and injured a large number of people. The rising number of victims is currently 42 dead and 239 injured. ISIS is suspected as inspiring or directing the attack. 

Cable news repeatedly showed frightening images of massive explosions in a transit lounge as well as a gunman, running into the airport shooting a AK-47 assault weapon, who then is shot by airport security and drops his weapon only to blow his suicide vest up as he lies on the floor.

This latest attack comes on the heels of previous terrorist attacks in Turkey (including two prior attacks in Istanbul this year, including a car bomb earlier this month and a suicide bomber earlier this year as well as deadly car bombs in Ankara this year) which doubtlessly will have the effect of frightening people from traveling or cruising to Turkey. 

A number of newspapers have recently reported that the two terrorists attacks last year in Tunisia (which killed 17 cruise passengers from Costa and MSC cruise ships at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and, later, several dozens of British tourists on holiday at beach resorts in Sousse Tunisia) is Istanbul Terrorcausing the country’s tourism industry to struggle. Skift reports that Tunisian tourist revenue was down 35 percent last year, at $1.5 billion, and caused the dinar currency to historic lows against the dollar and euro this month. 

This is bad news for the future of tourism in Turkey. There have been at least eight terror attacks in Turkey dating back a year.  USA TODAY today published an article today which notes that "the string of attacks have caused a big drop in tourism, a major source of revenue for Turkey. Many cruise ships that used to make port calls in Istanbul are bypassing the city."

The U.S. State Department "warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey" (i.e., near Syria). The June 27, 2016 warning, issued the day before the attack, said: ""foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations."

The CruiseArabia website says that "just two international cruise ships were in Turkish waters at the time of the attack Tuesday, both Wind Star and Royal Caribbean’s ‘Jewel of the Seas’ have continued with their cruise itineraries as planned.

At the time of writing Jewel of the Seas was in port in Kusudasi while Wind Star was anchored off Bodrum. Both Windstar Cruises and Royal Caribbean have refused to comment on whether any additional security has been put in place for passengers on shore excursions in the wake of the attacks."

Photo credit: Top – Fox News; Bottom AP via IndianExpress

Cruise Refugees MediterraneanYesterday, I commented on our Facebook page on the report of a cruise passenger that the Norwegian Spirit, together with the Italian Coast Guard, were involved in assisting what were initially believed to be 300 Syrian immigrants at sea. The NCL cruise ship left Naples heading for Mikonos. A passenger said that that according to captain, the Italian Coast Guard took care of most of refugees and the NCL ship took two pregnant woman onboard who will be medevaced by helicopter for medical treatment. 

The incident was widely reported on television in Europe today.  Euronews reported today that the refugees initially believed to be from Syria, were Sudanese, Somalis and Egyptians. News accounts showed an Italian Coast Guard vessel taking hundreds of refugees aboard as well as medevacing a pregnant woman from what is reported to be the Norwegian Spirit.

Our posting of the event on Facebook sparked a number of hateful comments about refugees from the Middle East and Africa.  There is a long standing maritime tradition of providing aid to people at sea. But many people called the refugees "terrorists," although these poor people were probably fleeing from terror in their home countries.

Fear of refugees at sea is increasingly becoming a part of the debate whether U.S. travelers believe that it is safe to cruise in the Mediterranean this summer. Fox News Travel reports today that "the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Turkey over the last year haven’t dissuaded Americans from visiting Europe, but they appear to be having an effect on the cruise line industry. Fewer Americans are signing up for Mediterranean cruises this year, according to executives at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Cruises, indicating that the attacks by Islamic State jihadists are affecting the industry."

Travel Market Report says today that "Norwegian Cruise Line released its first-quarter financial results this week, (and) it acknowledged that the attacks in Europe have impacted its bookings mainly among just one customer base: North America."

The Cruise Critic web site stated today that Carnival Cruise Line has canceled calls on the port of Izmir, Turkey, on all upcoming sailings of Carnival Vista, following a warning from the U.S. State Department. Cruise Critic says that "Izmir was specifically named in a March 29 travel advisory from the State Department, which warned against unnecessary travel to southeastern Turkey due to an increased risk of terrorist activity targeting American travelers."

If U.S. national politics are any indication, there is a significant percentage of U.S. citizens who are xenophobic and view Arab refugees as potential trouble.

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

I could not help noticing that USA travel writer Gene Sloan’s article today entitled Afraid to cruise in Europe? Nuts! Now’s a great time to go seems to be sponsored by Viking River Cruises.  The don’t-worry-be-happy article starts after a 65 photo portfolio as part of an introductory summary of "Cruise ship tours: Viking River Cruises’ Viking Skirnir" and then is followed by another 99 photos which were part of another article promoting Viking – "First look: Inside Viking Cruises’ new Viking Sea." Just two days ago, Gene was hawking Viking cruises in another article – New Viking line plans epic, 141-day world cruise.

There’s no question that cruising to Europe seems to be lagging behind cruises to other locations viking Cruiseswhich are perceived to be safer, like the Caribbean. We all know from comments by the cruise executives at Royal Caribbean following its last quarter that Americans Are Cruising Closer to U.S. Waters, due to the terrorist activities in Paris and Brussels.   

The number one location that we are asked about is Turkey.  To respond to such inquiries, we mention prior terrorist attacks there and the issue of immigrants from Syria and other countries, but the reader has to make up their own mind whether it is reasonably safe based on their own risk assessment.

But it’s naive to think that cruising to the Caribbean is safer than cruising to Europe. I can readily say that cruising to the Caribbean will take you to some of the most dangerous ports of call in the world, not from terrorists mind you, but from common criminals. Some of the Caribbean ports have a lot of crime and high murder rates which make cruising to Nassau, St. Thomas and Roatan like cruising to East St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit except most U.S. citizens don’t know any better.  Europe is far safer than the Caribbean in terms of rape, murder, harassment and theft. 

Regarding the threat of terrorism, we have written many articles pointing out what the true experts are saying, like U.S. and British naval commanders who are reporting about the threats of ISIS to Europe from North Africa. Take a moment and read the recent article by Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer – Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer).  I also suggest that travelers consider the warning of retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis or the warning from the U.K. naval commander for NATO that ISIS presents a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Most experts seems to say it’s just a matter of when and where, not if, ISIS will attack. The highly respected gCaptain reported yesterday that Captain William Nault, Chief of Staff with the multi-national Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), told Reuters that Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch remains a powerful force and poses a growing risk to ships.  

We have seen other don’t-worry-about-a-thing articles from travel writers before, like the article in the Telegraph in February – Are Cruise Holidays Safe from Terrorism? written by U.K. cruise travel specialist Jane Archer, who appeared to us to ignore history and down-play the threat of terror.

Chances are remote, of course, that you will be attacked by terrorists when you cruise in or around Europe. The chances of being a victim of crime in the Caribbean are greater. But as far as cruises in either part of the world, you certainly aren’t nuts if you decide to vacation somewhere else this summer. 

Photo credit:  By Viking Cruises – Viking Cruises, CC0, commons / wikimedia.org

Stephen L. Caldwell,  a member of the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee. down-played the threat of international radical Islamic terrorism on the cruise industry in an article for Maritime Executive entitled Tightening the Security Envelope – Despite all the hoopla about terrorist threats and onboard crime, cruise ships are among the safest places on earth. He suggests that talk of terrorism is "much ado" about nothing. I posted Mr.Caldwell’s article on our Facebook page with the comment that "if the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security is listening to this committee on USS Cole - ISIS Terrorinternational maritime security matters, passengers are sitting ducks."

My view is that Mr. Caldwell’s naive article might as well have been written by the Cruise Line International Association for PR purposes. It is dangerously irresponsible to crew members and cruise passengers alike. I have expressed my feelings here about the threat of ISIS on cruise shipping many times before, including How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen

Fortunately, other knowledgeable experts have provided a more realistic view of ISIS’s motivations. Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer, wrote an article which was published today, Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein is hardly an arm chair quarterback; he previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer).  

He suggests that it is not if, but when will ISIS and "other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?" Citing the many examples of attacks ashore, Captain Hein suggests that an ISIS attack on an underway cruise ship is real. Like assaulting a "large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel," the "narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help."

He estimates that the chance that ISIS will attack "blue water objectives out of sight of land" is still remote as long as navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. However, coastal attacks like that committed by ISIS predecessor Al Qaeda against the USS Cole (attack diagram above) remain more probable. And he specifically cites the terrorist attacks last March at the Bardo museum in Tunis, when cruise passengers from a Costa and MSC cruise ship were killed. He also cites a shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August of last year.

Photo Credit: USS Cole diagram – Reuters; Video credit: U.K.’s Mirror

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April 24 2016:  "Special forces guard cruise terror targets: Commandos trained to take out IS suicide boats" via UK’s Daily Star. 

Adam GoldsteinRoyal Caribbean’s Adam Goldstein was on FOX Business’s @MorningsMaria yesterday. The FOX analysts questioned Mr. Goldstein after the terrorists’ attack on the airport and subway in Belgium yesterday.  

Mr. Goldstein, the President and Chief Operating Officer of the cruise line, explained that his company makes a lot of effort into its security. Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships call on approximately 500 ports annually. Like other companies, it makes judgments based on the security information it has received prior to calling on a port. Occasionally, it will decide that it is not in the best interests of the cruise line and its guests to go to a particular port, like the recent case of Bali which its Celebrity Solstice and Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas  avoided.

Most places Royal Caribbean sails to are "absolutely safe," Mr. Goldstein claims.

He said that after the terrorist attacks last year in Paris, there was a "brief" decline in business of a week or two from Northern Europe countries. He said the effect on his cruise line business was "de Royal Caribbean Jim Cramerminimis."  He does not expect anything different after this latest attack in Brussels.

The FOX News panel also questioned Mr. Goldstein on the effect of the Zika virus on bookings. He also downplayed the effect of this serious medical problem, which is believed to cause abnormally underdeveloped heads (microcephaly) in newborn children.

Mr. Goldstein said: "We are not aware that we ever saw any sort of impact on the business and it doesn’t seem to be a conversation today."

This is an interesting perspective. Yesterday, another financial show on CNBC, Jim Cramer’s MAD MONEY, suggested that although cruise lines deny that the Zika virus has affected their operations to date, it will severely impact cruising in the coming months

You can hear Mr. Goldstein below.

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