Will Cruise Lines Alter Itineraries to Avoid Pirates?

April 14, 2009

Recent pirate activity in the Indian Ocean has once again brought the dangers of sailing in that area of the world into the spotlight. With several ships scheduled to cruise through the Gulf of Aden -- the waterway off the coast of Somalia where the majority of pirate attacks have occurred -- this spring, what are cruise lines doing to keep passengers safe?

In the recent past, lines have altered plans due to pirate activity -- MSC Rhapsody took an alternate course through the Gulf of Aden in March 2009, and in December 2008, German-based cruise operators Plantours & Partner and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises disembarked passengers before sailing through the pirate-infested waters. However, we contacted several cruise lines with upcoming Gulf of Aden transits, and all plan on sailing through -- with all passengers onboard.

Seabourn Cruise Line spokesman Bruce Good tells us that one of the reasons the line has decided to stick with the Gulf of Aden is because international forces are aggressively patrolling that area. Moreover, because the oversight is working, pirates are now concentrating their attacks elsewhere. Also, when Seabourn Spirit transits the gulf on April 20 and 21, it will travel with a group of vessels on a route suggested by the international forces in the area. In order to match timing with the other ships, Seabourn has canceled the ship's call in Salalah, Oman, and according to Good, there have been no complaints regarding the change.

Meanwhile, a Costa Cruises company statement says that "the situation is not impacting the activities planned in this geographic area and [the company] is continuing its regularly scheduled routes." Ships have safety and security equipment onboard and crewmembers are trained to handle any situation that might arise. When Costa Victoria sails through the gulf at the end of April, ship's staff will be in contact with security authorities in Italy and abroad and all suspicious boats will be kept at a safe distance.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent company for Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Cruises, will send Azamara Quest and RCI's Legend of the Seas through the Gulf of Aden this year. Spokesman Michael Sheehan says the ships will also be traveling on a route patrolled by naval vessels. He tells us, "We also have directly coordinated the timing of our sailing with military personnel, so they know where we will be at all times. Our ships will be speaking to the military forces in the Gulf of Aden by telephone each day, throughout our time there, and we can reach them at a moment's notice, should we encounter any problems."

Oceania Cruises' Nautica will also stick to its scheduled itinerary this fall. Spokesman Tim Rubacky tells us, "Extra security measures will be employed but it would not be prudent to disclose them prior to [the ship's] transit."

Of course, as cruise lines take measures to protect their passengers, it's up to each individual to weigh the risks of sailing through an area like the Gulf of Aden against the chance to visit unique ports of call in what's, to most, a less-traveled part of the world. For a glimpse into what the experience is like, check out our virtual cruise to the Middle East and Africa onboard Hapag-Lloyd's Europa.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

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