Any factor that could compromise the safety of passengers and crew is a serious issue for cruiseship operators. Whether the danger is large or small, if the consequences are potentially severe, cruise lines must be seen to take the appropriate steps to mitigate those risks. The issue of crisis management covers a broad spectrum of potential dangers, but it is crucial that operators examine them all and ensure they have the skills, strategy and awareness to respond appropriately.

The events of 2005 have clearly highlighted the diversity of dangers for which countermeasures or containment policies must be in place. Above all, they have underlined the need for the industry to take a proactive approach to risks, rather than waiting for a problem to arise and then trying to react. Whether it is the threat of piracy or the need to contain an outbreak of contagious infection on board a ship, the industry needs to plan and prepare, even though many ships may never have to deal with the issue. If there is a threat to life, health or a company’s reputation, then preventative action must be taken, and a strategy for response to such threats must be clearly defined.


In November 2005, piracy emerged in the public consciousness as a threat to cruiseships when Seabourn Cruise Lines’ Seabourn Spirit suffered an attempted attack by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Fortunately, the vessel, under threat of attack from two small boats carrying machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, was not boarded. The emergency response system and the actions of the crew saved the passengers on board from a potentially lethal attack, and the cruiseship managed to outrun its assailants.

Damage to the ship was minor and only one injury was reported, but the threat of piracy, particularly in Somalian waters, which has one of the longest stretches of coastline in Africa, nevertheless remains a risk. The attack, which occurred over 100 miles from shore, highlighted the audacity of pirates in the region, and prompted warnings about operating cruise and merchant shipping in the area.

It also raised the issue of ship security in a wider sense, as well as highlighting the debate over the use of defensive weaponry such as sonic devices and high-pressure water cannons that could be used to repel unwanted boarders.

Though the response of Seabourn Spirit and its crew prevented a more serious incident, the real concern for the cruise industry is the effect such an attack could have on the confidence of travelers considering cruises when choosing their holidays. It is for this reason that operators are now taking an even more serious approach to intelligence, security and strategy.

“Stress wave energy can be used to identify early stage deterioration of pods when observed over time.”

In planning itineraries, for instance, a clear view of the changing geographical risk pattern is vital, and Somalia, where there is no effective government and high levels of civil unrest, is obviously a key area of concern. However, it is not the only part of the world where shipping is at risk from piracy.

“There are some areas where shipping is more at risk. Somalia is a big problem, especially in the last few months,” says Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau, which runs the Piracy Reporting Centre.

“Between March and November 2005 there were 32 attacks, as far as 390 miles off the coast. However, since early November there have been no attacks, perhaps because naval vessels are now on patrol there. Indonesia is also a risk area, but not the Malacca Straits, where the number of attacks is down this year. Around Iraq there have been violent attacks by well-armed pirates for commercial gain.”

Mukundan notes that the danger is greater off the west coast of Africa, and highlights Latin America as another high-risk area, particularly near Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. The risk map is evolving, with the waters around Somalia becoming more dangerous in 2005 in terms of piracy, and Iraq emerging as an increasingly dangerous area for shipping.


Following the attack on the Seabourn Spirit, and in the context of the heightened risk of piracy around Somalia, Mukundan has been among those calling for greater naval protection for vessels operating in the area. However, he points out that if the risk of piracy is analysed on a broader scale, cruise operators are among those with the least to fear.

“Cruiseships are not really a target for commercial pirates,” he explains. “They want to steal cargo and hold the crew to ransom. They don’t want to deal with hundreds of hysterical passengers, so cruiseships are not a natural target. Pirates are more likely to go for merchant vessels with small crews.”

Nevertheless, the Spirit incident has shown that cruiseships cannot entirely rule out the risk of attack. So, while the risk may be small, the potential for injury, loss of life, damage to commercial reputation and damage to the public perception of cruise safety exists. Therefore, the question of how to respond is still an important one for cruise lines to address, even if only to reassure potential passengers that they are aware of the problem and understand the nature of the risk.

The big issue, therefore, concerns what cruiseships can legitimately and effectively do to combat pirates if an attack should happen. Beyond evasive action another option is ship defence and whether vessels should carry some form of arms to prevent pirates closing in on a ship or boarding it.

Among the technologies on the table for consideration are advanced sonic weapons, such as those used by the Seabourn Spirit, which make it difficult for a pirate ship to approach the vessel it has targeted. Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) were commissioned after the attack on the USS Cole near Yemen in 2000, and are non-lethal weapons that have been successfully deployed by military agencies in many contexts. They have been used in the ongoing conflict in Iraq for urban pacification, and were even used in New Orleans to control disorder after Hurricane Katrina had caused widespread damage.

The loud and unpleasant noise created by LRADs makes it difficult for pirates, large crowds or any assailant to operate coherently and encourages them to disperse and evade. According to Mukundan, such devices are increasingly considered a viable option for ship defence by cruise operators and other shipping owners, though he has concerns about ships and their crews dealing with these issues by themselves.

“There is a difference between law enforcement agencies using weapons and individuals taking matters into their own hands,” says Mukundan. “The latter might increase the risk of violence. People have shown us devices such as sound weapons, and they seem to be effective and non-lethal, but our advice is to cooperate with the efforts of the law enforcement agencies. That is the view of the IMO and most major shipping organisations.”

He believes that the necessary infrastructure is in place to respond to the threat of piracy, as has been seen in the Malacca Straits, where the presence of law enforcement agencies has dramatically reduced the number of attacks against shipping. “The government goes in with forces and piracy is reduced,” adds Mukundan. “Security should, in our view, be left to law enforcement agencies, which can bear arms and, more importantly, make arrests. They can bring criminals to account.”


Despite the fact that cruiseships are seen as less vulnerable than other vessels to the risk of piracy, there is a growing appetite in the industry for more detailed information on where such activity is likely to happen.

It is in the cruise industry’s interest to err on the side of caution and, for those looking to take the lead in the management of such risks, the necessary information is increasingly available. “In our view, piracy is well contained geographically,” says Simon Sole, CEO of Exclusive Analysis. “You can say where it might happen as long as you pay attention. Our cruise lines and maritime clients have a growing appetite for specific intelligence, and we have seen more clients come to us in the last year.”

Sole’s firm specialises in forecasting violent and political risk based on a proprietary intelligence methodology and globally sourced reports to help its clients make informed, strategic business decisions so they can fulfil their duty of care, maximise profits and protect their assets, staff and customers. Its services are in demand by firms in many sectors, including aviation, banking, insurance, media and leisure. It offers only intelligence analysis, with no accompanying insurance or security services, in order to maintain its objectivity and independence.

“Sensor solutions and the ability to look at debris in real time is the next significant step.”

The reports generated by companies such as Exclusive Analysis provide businesses with a more detailed analysis of risk than would otherwise be available, which in some instances helps them avoid a knee-jerk perception of risks and may serve to reassure some businesses about the level of danger of operating in a given area, as well as highlighting issues that may have escaped obvious analysis.

“You have to calculate the probability that something will happen, and then the probability that something will happen to a specific ship,” notes Sole. “Usually the risk is minimal, though the risk is 100% that something will happen if you hang around near Somalia with a big cruiseship. There were also arrests recently over a planned attack on an Israeli cruiseship in the Strait of Antalya, but overall a link between terrorism and piracy has not been established. The people engaged in piracy are in it specifically for economic gain.”

The need to ensure that appropriate risk analysis has been highlighted by the introduction of the International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code, introduced in July 2004 in response to perceived threats to the broader shipping industry following the 9/11 attacks on the USA.

Implemented through the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the ISPS Code defines security of ships and ports as a risk management activity and provides a framework for evaluating risks to enable governments to determine appropriate security measures in light of perceived threats.

Though directed at governments, the ISPS Code sets the tone for the industry as a whole, and highlights the onus on ship operators to take risk awareness and risk management seriously.

“Shipping companies face intense commercial pressure, and understanding the wider risk picture shows a duty of care, so more ship owners are taking this seriously,” adds Sole. “There have been instances where companies have held off because of intelligence they have received.”


Another threat to passenger safety that surfaced in 2005 is of a very different nature to the risk of piracy. However, the countermeasures recommended mirror the advice of Mukundan as they centre on an awareness of and adherence to the strategies and strictures put in place by shipping authorities.

The threat is disease, and was highlighted by numerous outbreaks of noroviruses-gastrointestinal bugs on board cruiseships during 2005. For instance, in November, passengers on the Diamond Princess contracted the infection, though this was by no means an isolated incident for the industry.

There is a risk of norovirus spreading in any contained community, and the cruise business does not necessarily face a greater risk than any other industry. However, such outbreaks can again have a negative effect in the eyes of the public and so appropriate countermeasures and control strategies are a priority. “Cruiseships do not pose any greater risk for the spread of infections and diseases than a large gathering of people,” notes David Forney, chief of the Vessel Sanitation Program at the Centre for Disease Control Prevention and Containment Strategies (CDC).

“Illnesses found on cruise vessels are similar to those we find in high-density populations such as university dormitories, daycare centres, nursing homes and summer camps. The common factor is a large number of people sharing the same space for several days at a time.”

The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) has the role of assisting with the prevention and reduction of the introduction of Gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses on cruiseships. Cruise vessels are required to notify the VSP of all reported cases of GI illness to the VSP, which monitors and analyses this information.

Forney notes that while passengers and staff on cruiseships are at no greater risk than in other contained communities, the perception of that risk may be skewed in the eyes of the public. “There may be a perception that noroviruses are more common on cruiseships because, in the USA, the cruiseship industry is the only industry required to conduct surveillance and report GI illness,” says Forney. “However, voluntary surveillance data reported to the CDC from US states shows that the incidence of GI illness on the cruise ships is considerably less than in the general US population. However, if we concentrate on norovirus, we know that it is the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness in North America. Therefore, the likelihood of having an ill passenger on the ship is probably very high.”


Controlling the risk of infection is crucial to passenger confidence and the maintenance of a positive passenger experience. Preventative measures are vital, as are strategies for response to an outbreak. Generally, the industry is seen to be ahead of the game in this regard.

“The cruise industry takes numerous steps to control disease on board its vessels, including following the VSP Operations Manual requirements, designating staff both on ships and in headquarters to prevent illnesses on ships, proactively providing comments to new versions of the VSP Operations Manual, and designing Outbreak Prevention Plans (OPP), which identify and respond to illnesses aboard the vessel,” notes Forney. “Effective measures of reducing and preventing illnesses aboard ships are as routine following VSP Operations Manual and as specific as creating and using OPPs to identify and respond to illnesses aboard the ship. It is important to identify illness as soon as possible, and then initiate steps in the OPP to reduce potential spread of the virus. Still, the best prevention is proper and thorough hand-washing with warm water and soap.”

It seems, therefore, that whether the risk management issues facing the cruise industry involve deploying high-tech sonic weapons to repel pirates or washing hands to limit the spread of infection, the most important piece of advice is to cooperate fully with the relevant authorities and follow their guidance. The processes and systems to protect passengers and control risk are in place, and it is up to the industry adhere to them.