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Are Cruise Ships Safe?

Editor's note: Content was up to date at time of publication.

Are cruise ships safe? It's one of the most common questions we hear these days from cruise veterans and first-timers alike. Tragic occurrences such as the passenger on Carnival's Holiday who disappeared from the ship in June 2009 or the fire on Royal Princess that took out two engines the same month certainly raise the issue's ugly head even more. And we haven't forgotten, as well, about MSC Melody, which was nearly hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia; Ocean Nova, which ran aground in Antarctica; and Timothy Webb, the Royal Caribbean passenger and convicted sex offender, who was arrested at the pier for possessing child pornography on his laptop.

So, we asked Cruise Critic readers just that question: Are cruise ships safe? The answer of more than 94 percent of the 1,700 who responded was ... yes.

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We asked other questions, too. And the answers?

Have you ever been affected by crime, minor or major, on a cruise ship? 10 percent said yes, 90 percent said no.

In light of media coverage of recent events onboard cruise ships, would you consider it safer to vacation on a cruise ship or at an onshore resort? Admittedly, many Cruise Critic readers would be ever so slightly biased towards at-sea vacations, but still, a whopping 87 percent would opt for cruise travel over resorts; 12 percent would choose the land-based option.

Does the publicity about such tragic events scare you off from cruising? In this case, 76 percent said nope, no worries at all, while 23 percent admitted they'd still go -- but might be more safety conscious in the future. And just 1 percent said "I will not cruise."

Finally, we wanted to know how cruise travelers felt about the safety issue being raised to national proportions as a result of congressional hearings. Will the hearings, we asked, achieve anything? Nineteen percent of you are optimists, believing that indeed, mandated and regulated policies for cruise lines will ultimately result. The rest of you? Not so hopeful. Forty-six percent felt that the hearings were merely "opportunities for blowhard lawyers to pontificate," and 35 percent expect "sadly, nothing" to come from the events.

In a number of areas in the Cruise Critic poll, travelers were invited to offer additional commentary, and we noted some definite trends.

Why Ships Are Safe
"On Royal Caribbean I am always seeing security guards and officers all around. Also, I firmly believe the majority of awareness and safety lies with myself. I don't let anyone in my cabin I don't know when I'm by myself, I don't walk around the ship real late at night by myself and I don't climb on things I'm not supposed to." -- Bandit236

"Anyone who is not a guest is off limits at this floating hotel. I believe it is much safer to be on a cruise ship than in a hotel." -- anonymous

"Cruise ships are basically an enclosed environment with the majority of inhabitants there for the same reason -- enjoyment and relaxation. I feel the crews are screened by the cruise lines much more stringently than most people give them credit for. I also think the majority of crew members are the sole breadwinners in their families and are highly unlikely to risk their livelihood for short term gain." -- budaman

"Take the number of people who cruise and how many of these turn up missing or dead. Then take any major city and the number who end up missing or dead. The math says that though this is garnering intense media coverage, it's still safer on a ship." -- girlywhirly

"The only place where there's 100 percent safety is the grave, and then it doesn't matter very much. Part of LIVING as opposed to just staying alive is balancing the relative risks vs. benefits of any situation. On a cruise ship, that balance is tilted way way way to the low-risk, high-benefit side!" -- coach_anne

Self-Awareness Matters
"Cruise ships are like a small city. You still have to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense. 'Stupid' disease does not go away just because you are on vacation. I have always seen security around the ship and feel safe as long as I am doing all the right things." -- mtinga

"People need to remember where they are when they are cruising. They are on a ship based in a foreign country, not an extension of the U.S. or under most of its laws. It is not a place to take silly risks. It is also not a giant baby sitter for children to wander unattended or for adults who act like children." -- roysue

"Ships are designed so that the normal person would have to work very hard to be injured. After 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy submarine fleet, I could see the Grandeur of the Seas was designed with safety as a foremost thought." -- wraithe

But Accountability Isn't Limited to Passengers...
"Being a follower of the cruise industry who has cruised 15 times, I do feel that the cruise line's primary concern is protecting its reputation. Although they will all say that passenger is their primary concern, what they really mean is that customer safety can have a direct effect on their bottom line." -- JMJM62

"While I am not a big RCCL fan I believe they along with most other major cruise lines have a protocol in place for dealing with such incidents. They all must deal with the complexities of many various foreign jurisdictions." -- anonymous

"I would like to see cruise lines start refusing to serve alcohol to obviously highly intoxicated guests. The extra income is just not worth it. There is a not-so-fine line between 'having a good time' and 'stupid.' Perhaps adding a clause, clearly spelled out and requiring a signature, to cruise documents, that adult passengers are at all times responsible for their own behavior and consequences of same ... or some such legalese ... would help put an end to such incidences." -- coach_anne

"The lack of supervision of teenagers during the evening and later at night is another accident waiting to happen. The lack of uniformed officers patrolling the ship with the intent of displaying security is a cause for concern when there are long halls and unattended parts of the ship." -- HS2BS@AOL.COM

Where Do We Go From Here?
"As a single woman traveling sometimes alone, I will need to be more wary of who I associate with and where I go on the ship. For instance, I no longer feel safe walking alone on deck at night even though I love to look at the stars and enjoy a bit of fresh air before I go to bed." -- the2ofus

"There's not enough live security on ship especially at night. When my hubby does not want to accompany me for a late-night snack, I won't go myself. Corridors are too deserted. I know there is room service but I don't want to make hard-working crew come to our stateroom so late. I wish there were walking security guards. I would feel more secure in this world we have now." -- packed&ready!

"When we cruise we do so with our teenagers. After all of the publicity regarding crimes at sea, we will be more cautious when allowing our kids freedom on the ship. I would be more insistent that they are with a friend when they are not with one of us." -- goofynewfymom

A Few Final Thoughts
"The only crimes and accidents I am aware of have been driven by poor decision making on the part of the victim. Adults are responsible for their own choices. The Cruise lines are not our chaperones, they are not responsible for our individual behavior and bad choices. Nor is the cruise line responsible for supervision of our children." -- kathalinamarie

"An incident occurring onboard a cruise ship is so rare that it makes worldwide publicity while incidents on land are so commonplace that they are hardly newsworthy. Royal Caribbean responded far better than what would be expected of an international resort. What reports has Holiday Inn issued in the case of Natalie Holloway? Is the venue of a potential crime really the accountable source?" -- cruiseaddict-2003

"I think RCCL took too long in bringing out the facts and addressing the issues, thereby creating the sense of cover-up." -- boundingmaynard

"One strange disappearance doesn't make a trend. I'm frankly surprised more people don't disappear when a ship's at sea. Fall overboard, and if it's dark and no one notices, you're out of sight in 20 seconds." -- anonymous

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

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