Royal Navy officer, vice admiral Clive Johnstone CB CBE, has recently warned that Islamic State militants would like to build a maritime arm, posing a threat to Mediterranean cruise ships.
But the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents most cruise companies worldwide, has sought to reassure passengers that cruise lines take passenger safety very seriously.
What security measures are in place on board cruise ships?
A CLIA spokesman would not disclose its members’ security protocols but said that all ships have security staff, some of whom are former police officers. The Bridge carries out regular test situations for crew while sailing or in port to ensure everyone on board knows what to do in an emergency.
Most cruise lines also establish an exclusion zone around their ships while in port to make sure no small boats approach. In the unlikely event of an attack, a mayday can be sent from the Bridge.
Cruise lines also conduct stringent security checks on everyone embarking their ships. Luggage is put through X-ray scanners, just as it is at an airport before flying, and passengers have to walk through detectors before being allowed on board. They also have to put anything they have bought ashore through X-ray machines either in the terminal or on board the ship.
Piracy, an issue a few years ago in the waters around East Africa, is now under control.
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What would happen in the event of an attack?
Cruise-ship captains have years of experience and are highly trained to deal with emergencies (Costa Concordia was an unfortunate exception). A lot of cruise captains started their careers working on merchant or cargo ships and will be trained how to deal with an attack. When Somali pirates were active in the Gulf of Aden it was usual for passengers to be mustered inside the ship and all lights to be switched off.
Where are the danger zones and are any ports out of bounds?
Several countries have become no-go areas since the start of the Arab Spring in 2010. Syria and Libya are obvious examples. Most cruise lines have cancelled calls to Tunisia after terrorist attacks last year and none are going to Lebanon at the moment.
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Calls at Egyptian ports come and go depending on Foreign Office advice. There is currently no ban on travel to the majority of Egypt, however, and cruise lines regularly visit Safaga, a port on the Suez Canal used for excursions to Luxor. Nile cruises are also still running although there are fewer boats plying the river than in the past. Indeed, this actually makes the whole experience much more pleasant as the temples you visit are not overrun with tourists.
Most cruise lines cancelled their Black Sea itineraries when Russia occupied the Crimea two years ago. A few have returned and visit Odessa in the Ukraine but the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Yalta remain off-limits.
«One of the benefits of a cruise holiday is that cruise companies can change itineraries immediately in response to incidents»
Have cruise lines altered their itineraries in recent years?
One of the benefits of a cruise holiday is that cruise companies can change itineraries immediately in response to incidents. Hotels cannot do that. If the cruise lines believe it is dangerous to visit a particular port, they can simply alter course and so somewhere else so holidays are not ruined.
Over the past five years or so they have had to skip ports in countries including Bahrain, Egypt and Israel. Most recently Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises cancelled calls to Turkey in the wake of the terrorist attack in Istanbul on January 15. Cancelling a port visit is a last resort but passenger and crew safety always comes first.
Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises cancelled calls to Turkey in the wake of the terrorist attack in Istanbul on January 15
What about on shore?
Cruise passengers are issued with credit card-like ID as soon as they embark their ship and this will have to be shown to get into the terminal in most ports or to get on tender boats if their ship is at anchor. This ID is checked a second time once they are on the ship. River cruise companies don’t use terminals. However, a few ports have security gates to prevent anyone who does not have the code getting close to the vessels.
Have there been any major incidents involving attacks on cruise passengers?
There have been attacks on cruise passengers just as there have been on other holidaymakers in various parts of the world. In 2013 two British cruise passengers were shot by an armed robber in Barbados. The same year a group of cruise passengers was robbed at gunpoint in St Lucia. Thankfully no one was hurt. Most shocking was the attack by terrorists last year on an excursion group in Tunis. At least 17 people were killed and more than 20 injured. They had been on an excursion to the city’s Bardo Museum.
Damage done by attackers at the Bardo Museum in Tunis last year Photo: EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA
Is there evidence that terrorists target cruise passengers?
None at all. Terrorists want to kill as many people as they can. The attack in Tunisia could equally have been on tourists on a tour from a city hotel.
Can I cancel my holiday if I’m concerned?
No. The only time you can cancel a holiday and get your money back is if the Foreign Office advises against all travel. Again, one of the benefits of a cruise is that if you are due to visit a country that appears on the no-go list, the cruise line can simply change the itinerary.