Oct 282011

In 2009, the cruise ship Melody was sailing just 1,000 km. off Somalia. On board were about 1,500 passengers who had signed up for a holiday that would take them to Aqaba port and later to Genoa, northern Italy. According to reports, the pirates attempted to board the ship by throwing ladders and opening fire to intimidate the crew and the passengers. It would have been an easy job for the six pirates who boarded a boat that chased the Melody – they attacked at night and they were armed. What they did not know was the fact that the cruise ship had anticipated problems regarding maritime security in the area. MSC Melody had a private security force on board who fired back with guns and water hoses, prompting the pirates to pull back. The ship and its passengers were unharmed.

This is not the first incident of a cruise ship being attacked by criminals. The first such attack occurred in late 2005 also in the waters off Somali. The Seabourn Spirit was accosted by two skiffs who were backed by a larger ship and fired at. The Spirit fought back, using firehoses and LRADs. It was also assisted by the USS Gonzalez.

The need for more effective and efficient maritime security measures has never been more obvious nor timely, particularly during the last few years when the number of attacks at sea by pirates has escalated. Not many people may realize it but cruise ships are as vulnerable to pirate attacks as cargo liners. It is true that most of the ships that have been reported hijacked at sea were cargo ships but there have been incidents when pirates attempted to board cruise ships. These criminal activities are usually performed by pirates who ransack a ship for supplies or steal valuables from passengers. In most cases, they attack a ship to kidnap the crew and/or passengers to be exchanged for ransom money later.

Areas at risk
Many cruise liners travel some areas that are prone to pirate attacks and thus require efficient maritime security measures. These areas include the region just a few miles from the shores of Haiti, the west coast of Africa, the South American coast in the north and certain areas in Southeast Asia. Also vulnerable are the Mozambique Channel – particularly the northern part, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf and the northern Indian Ocean. Although the United Nations patrols attack-prone shipping lanes, the fact that pirates still exist means that the risk is still there.

Cruise ship security
A large cruise liner could, with its speed and capacity, probably outrun smaller pirate ships but only if the crew had been sufficiently warned so they can take effective evasive action. An anchored ship is another story. Cruise ships may be bigger and faster than cargo ships but that has not deterred pirates from attempting to board a few that came through their so-called territory. Piracy is now more organized and the pirates’ access to weapons has made them more confident about hijacking cruise liners. With a solid maritime security plan backed up by a trained and skilled security force on board, a cruise ship’s crew and passengers are assured that they can rely on a source of protection wherever and whenever they may need it. This is especially critical when life and limb are at stake.

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