Oceania Cruises' Nautica successfully evaded an attempt by pirates to seize the ship, the company said today. The statement is as follows:

"On November 30, 2008, at approximately 0928 local time, 0528 GMT, M/S NAUTICA was transiting through the Gulf of Aden within the prescribed Maritime Safety Protection Area which is patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces. As the vessel sailed past several groups of non-hostile fishing vessels, two small skiffs were sighted by the Officer on Duty and deemed potentially hostile. The skiffs, approaching from a range of approximately 1000 meters, attempted to intercept the vessel's course.

"Captain Jurica Brajcic and his officers immediately began evasive maneuvers and took all prescribed precautions. NAUTICA was immediately brought to flank speed and was able to out run the two skiffs. One of the skiffs did manage to close the range to approximately 300 yards and fired eight rifle shots in the direction of the vessel before trailing off. No one aboard NAUTICA was harmed and no damage was sustained.

"All guests and crew onboard are safe and there were no injuries. All requisite international authorities have been notified and all anti-piracy precautions were in place prior to the event and all necessary measures were taken during the event."

The Gulf of Aden lies between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. Bordered by Djibouti and Somalia to the south west, and Yemen, to the north, this waterway is a mere 18 miles wide at its narrowest point (the Bab el Mandab Strait). It's one of the most dangerous places in the world for ships, cargo and cruise vessels alike, to pass through due to increased piracy in the area.

This is actually the second time this year that pirates have zeroed in on a cruise ship. Le Ponant, a three masted luxury vessel, was seized in April by Somali pirates. That vessel was carrying 30 crew members -- though no passengers -- and after an eight day standoff those onboard were rescued. The ship ultimately was also rescued and pirates were captured.

Seabourn Spirit successfully outran a pirate attack in December 2005.

Most cruise ships that transit this most dangerous of international waterways are equipped with anti-piracy weaponry. A cruise captain whose ship traveled from the Mediterranean to the Seychelles already this fall, told Cruise Critic that particularly effective is a sonic device that is in essence like a heavy duty stereo speaker. It sends a sonic wave out to a directed target, punishing with a sound so potentially powerful that it bursts eardrums and shocks pirates into dropping weapons and losing focus.

If the Gulf of Aden is so dangerous why do cruise ships continue to sail through it? "Right now the Gulf of Aden is the most viable gateway between the Mediterranean and Asia says Oceania Cruises' Tim Rubacky. The only other option is to feature itineraries that cruise down the west coast of Africa and there's a reason why few cruise lines offer such trips. It adds an additional 20 - 30 days to an already lengthy trip.

For instance, next fall, Princess Cruises' Ocean Princess, on its way from Europe to the Far East that skips the Gulf of Aden, will sail two repositionings to get to Singapore, the ultimate destination. The first is a 31-night Dover to Capetown cruise. There are just 13 ports of call on the schedule and most, aside from Lisbon, Le Havre, Casablanca and Dakar, are anything but household names. Ocean Princess will then depart from for a 32-night Capetown to Singapore voyage; with just nine stops on land, sea days again vastly outnumber port calls.

In contrast, when Oceania Nautica returns to Europe next April, it will do so via a 35-night cruise between Hong Kong and Athens. That's literally half the length of a voyage around Africa.

As well, the region isn't as risky for cruise ships as it clearly has been for cargo vessels and oil tankers (which is why the occasional cruise ship run-in with pirates makes significantly more headlines). Cruise ships are less of an easy target with significantly larger crew members and less easy-to-access open deck space.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

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