Update, 12:45 p.m. EST: A passenger currently onboard Balmoral, carrying more than 1,000 Britons, spoke today to metro.co.uk about yesterday's incident. "All the passengers were ordered to go and sit down in a safe haven -- there was concern but it was all quite civilised.
"The majority of the passengers onboard the ship are elderly but everyone was taken safely back to their cabins. I understand that we were helped to safety by a navy ship -- it was either British or U.S.-owned ... we had been warned that there may be problems and had drills in advance. But when the captain told us, on the tannoy, to go below deck, he was very clear this was no drill."
According to metro.co.uk, military sources involved in monitoring the Gulf of Aden said the incident was "a false alarm."
(10 a.m. EST) -- Fred. Olsen's Balmoral was put on piracy alert last night after the cruise ship "encountered suspicious activity by two small craft" in the Gulf of Aden, according to a company statement. At 7:45 p.m. on 3 March, radar observed the two vessels closing in on Balmoral at high speed.
Passengers were assembled in "'safe havens' as part of a pre-planned safety procedure," according to the statement; at press time, a spokesperson for the line has not been able to confirm exactly where on the ship passengers were assembled.
The statement says that "aggressive manoeuvring" was implemented. A spokesperson for the line tells us that there was no gun firing, and, due to security concerns, cannot explain exactly what kind of aggressive tactics were employed. Also, the ship made contact with the EU Coalition Task Force, which patrols the Gulf of Aden in an effort to combat piracy.
At 8:45 p.m., an EU warship confirmed that the area surrounding Balmoral was clear, and the piracy alert was effectively called off.
Balmoral is in midst of its world cruise, which departed Dover on 14 February. The ship is currently en route to its next port, Salalah, Oman, and will call on 5 March as scheduled.
Before this, the most recent piracy attempt took place in November 2008, when Oceania's Nautica successfully evaded two small skiffs deemed potentially hostile. Since then, the U.N. Security Council has passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution allowing countries currently working with Somalia to combat piracy in the area to attack pirates on land and from Somali airspace.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor, and Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor
Fred. Olsen Cruise Ship Piracy Scare
March 4, 2009