What to do if pirates board your cruise ship

It’s not often that we get stories of pirates boarding cruise ships. Our friends at AOLTravel had one the other day though that caught our attention. When Somali pirates stalked a cruise ship in the Indian ocean recently, we’re told that “Passengers decked out for a black tie dinner on a British cruise ship on the Indian Ocean were told to hide below decks when a speed boat allegedly carrying Somali pirates came alongside the ship.”

Everything turned out fine in that case but you can bet that some passengers were wondering what might happen if things went badly.

A cool epilogue for that story, the latest lazer weapons may be the trick to ridding the world of real-life pirates. Apparently they work a lot like if a jet fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the lazer is so brilliant that it is impossible for pirates to aim weapons in the direction of ships using them. Yeah, like I said: cool.

Major cruise lines catering to US passengers stay clear of waters where pirate activity is noticed anyway though. Almost always when the subject of safety at sea comes up, some common-sense tips can protect us from hazards, most of which happen on the ship, not on pirate-infested waters.

  • Leave valuables at home. You don’t need the diamond tiara for formal night.
  • Sexual assault is the most common cruise-ship crime. Follow good-sense rules like never leaving drinks unattended. Don’t travel alone if you can avoid it.
  • Protect your health too. Noro-virus on cruise ships is common. Wash hands frequently. Avoid using hand rails on staircases, buttons on elevators and pretty much all buffets.
  • Keep your eyes open. You’d do it in Paris, London, or any other travel destination in the world. A cruise ship too is a destination these days and the bigger they get the more like cities they are. Get that many humans in one place and bad stuff is bound to happen at some time or another.

Those common sense tips are important and easy to understand. Some elements of a cruise vacation are a bit harder to get used to, rarely come up, but can have serious implications on how on-board incidents are handled.

  • Most cruise ships are foreign-flagged. Because of that, they are subject to only some US laws. Workplace employment laws, for example, do not apply. Not that the cruise lines are abusing the crew out of your sight, but workplace regulations on US soil don’t apply. When you hear that the captain of the ship is the “master of the vessel” believe it. At sea, that captain can be judge and jury for most matters that pertain to the safety of the ship, passengers and crew.
  • When a crime happens, the law followed depends on where the ship is. A crime happening in port is easy, those are subject to the laws of whatever land the ship is in. At sea, the country that governs those waters steps in. Far out at sea, international maritime law applies.

Still, state-side maritime attorneys chase after cruise ships looking for justice that is sometimes escapable by cruise lines in international waters.

Your best bet on what to do if pirates board your ship?

Get out your camera. It’s far more likely that you are on a sailing of a Disney cruise ship and that pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow acting out a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Flickr photo by Rev Stan