After hearing the news on the radio during her morning commute, a Cruise Critic colleague breathlessly announced that a Russian cruise company was offering pirate-hunting voyages. Indeed, we were able to access reports, via Internet blogs and other media, claiming that the chartered-yacht sailings would cruise through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, hoping to attract speedboats full of the Somali thieves so land-lubbing passengers could bag some pirate booty with an arsenal of onboard weapons.
The Question: Fact or fiction?
According to most reports, an unnamed Russian luxury cruise line plans to offer rich, wannabe-murderers the chance to sail for seven nights, at a tauntingly slow pace, through known pirate areas at an astronomical cost. (Rates we've seen have ranged from $5,000 to $7,000 per night!) Those onboard can choose to rent AK-47 rifles and other weapons for an additional fee, ammo sold separately.
The Answer: Fiction.
Skeptical, due to the lack of contact information for the mystery cruise line, we attempted to track down more information, which led us to Cruise Business Review Publisher Teijo Niemela, who said he's not even aware of any Russian cruise lines that could offer such a trip. Besides, as Niemela added, "Who'd want to take a cruise with crazy Russians with machine guns?"
Despite the fact that Snopes.com -- a site that specializes in digging up dirt on urban myths -- has discredited the rumors, tracing them to To The Point News and www.somalicruises.com (which apparently can't even spell the word "luxury"), posts still abound.
But even without Snopes' confirmation, common sense would likely tell most of us that the idea is ridiculously absurd. The last time we checked, killing people is illegal, and arming blood-thirsty, inexperienced cruise passengers with high-powered weapons is probably not a good idea. (It's also doubtful that John Doe would have much success filing a travel insurance claim after accidentally blowing off his own foot with an M-16.)
This tale is, simply, one of caution. From the dawn of Wi-Fi to the growing popularity of YouTube and Facebook, the technological renaissance of the past decade has allowed anyone with a pulse, an opinion and an Internet connection to become a "journalist."
Because just about anyone can post just about anything online, it's increasingly difficult to know what's true and what's utterly and completely false. As bloggers attempt to gain credibility as viable news sources, this latest round of chatter -- and its obvious lack of verification -- may have caused them to lose a bit of traction.
If we were able to debunk this myth in a matter of five minutes, why have some bloggers and a few seemingly credible news outlets -- including Scripps affiliate Bartlesville Live, Canada's National Post, MatadorPulse, ShortNews.com, "credible news" site NewsCred and U.K.-based ANANOVA.com, which has since removed the story after other sources cited it as a reference -- continued to propagate it with such straight faces?
If nothing else, this proves the power of online communications and the viral speed with which Internet news travels. But, as with real viruses (you know, the kind that cause illnesses named after farm animals and elicit undue panic), online ones often cause regurgitation -- of information. Next time, matey, we politely suggest less parroting and a bit of research before publication.
--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor
Fact or Fiction: Russian Cruise Company to Offer Pirate-Hunting Cruises?
July 2, 2009