High Security Continues in Pirate-Laden Gulf of Aden

October 28, 2009
Ocean Village Two (2:45 p.m. EDT) -- Notorious pirate hotspots are in the spotlight again this week after the Indian Ocean kidnapping of British yachting couple Paul and Rachel Chandler.

Although piracy is a year-round issue, mainly affecting freighters in the Gulf of Aden, there have been incidents involving passenger vessels, including cruise ships -- particularly in the repositioning seasons of fall and spring, when they move between the Mediterranean and Asia or the Caribbean. Indeed, a Cruise Critic member aboard Ocean Village Two, currently en route to Singapore on its final voyage, is reporting some intriguing security measures in place for the five days at sea that include the Gulf of Aden transit.

Member Andante commented this week: "Came back from a trip to [Egypt's] Ras Mohammed to find the back of the boat has coils of barbed wire around it ... letters in cabin about the security risk going through the Gulf of Aden." The post continues: "We are to have minimal lighting at night; have to keep the curtains drawn ... outside of Plantations closed, and instructions for what to do if we have an 'incident'!"

An official statement from the line confirms the heightened measures: "The safety as well as the enjoyment of our passengers is our principal concern at all times and additional precautionary measures will be taken while the ship is in the Gulf of Aden. As part of these measures, exterior lighting will be reduced, particularly on the lower decks. All restaurants, including Plantations, and the ship's bars and other facilities will remain open during this time."

In April of this year, MSC Cruises' Melody was attacked by pirates, causing the cruise line to boycott the region indefinitely. Fred. Olsen and Hapag Lloyd have also pulled out, and Yachts of Seabourn earlier this month cancelled a series of Indian Ocean cruises, citing piracy concerns as the reason. However, some ships, like Ocean Village Two, will make the journey. The 170-passenger sailing ship Star Clipper will still transit the Gulf of Aden on its long ocean crossing from the Mediterranean to Thailand, while ships belonging to Costa, Silversea and Voyages of Discovery are all scheduled to sail through the Red Sea in November.

So, should cruise passengers be worried? Although no ship is immune, the international community is working to counter the problem of the pirates. In February 2009, the Maritime Security Center (Horn of Africa) established an Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor in the region, patrolled by a European naval and air force. Group transits have been set up according to the speed at which ships can sail, working on the "safety in numbers" principle.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor