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

British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates

A British couple sailing from the Seychelles to Tanzania was kidnapped by Somali pirates and is now being held for ransom.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, both in their late 50’s, had been sailing since March on their 38-foot sailboat and keeping a blog about their journey. Last week family and friends alerted authorities that they had not heard from the couple in several days, and shortly after, their boat was found in the waters of the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

Pirates boarded the boat while the Chandlers slept and began demanding money. They took all the items of value off the boat and then forced the couple to onto a container shipp they’d seized earlier this month.

The pirates then called a British news station and allowed Chandler to make a statement saying that he and his wife had been kidnapped. So far the pirates have not asked for a ransom, but the assumption is that they will make their demands soon. Luckily, family members of the Chandlers have indicated that they will pay for the safe return of the couple.

With all the news about pirates attacking ships off the Somali coast, I was surprised that someone would sail a small craft through the area. Pirates usually go for bigger ships, but have attacked smaller boats and yachts as well. They assume the people on board will be wealthy and, as in this case, that their families will pay a ransom for them.

Russian yachts to offer “pirate hunting” cruises off Somali coast

Please let this be a joke.

According to several news sources, Russian yacht owners will begin offering “pirate hunting” vacations to those interested in wielding AK-47’s and shooting at pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Tickets aboard the ocean liners, which will cruise at about five miles per hour in an attempt to attract pirates, will cost about US$5,000, with AK-47’s and ammunition available for rent each day. The ships will be protected from pirates by private security guards made up of ex-special forces troops.

Not everyone is unfazed by this ridiculous, horrible idea. Russian yachtsman Vladimir Mironov says, “They are worse than the pirates. At least the pirates have the decency to take hostages; these people are just paying to commit murder.”

More here.


Somali pirate talks: “We consider ourselves heroes running away from poverty.”

No doubt you’ve already heard about all the trouble on the high seas off Somalia’s coast. Armed-to-the-teeth pirates have been boarding ships and demanding hefty ransoms from their owners, which are often paid in full for the ship’s return.

The Guardian recently allowed one Somali pirate named Asad Abdulahi to tell his story, and the results were quite interesting. He says that he began hijacking fishing boats in 1998, and that the first ship he and his buddies captured netted them $300,000. (Count me in!)

But unsurprisingly, the gig is not without its danger. Says Adbulahi: “Sometimes when we are going to hijack a ship we face rough winds, and some of us get sick and some die.” (Count me out!)

He also offers a couple tips for all you would-be pirates out there, saying, “We give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms. To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we use a rope ladder to get on board… After checking the cargo we ask the captain to phone the owner and say that [we] have seized the ship and will keep it until the ransom is paid.”

So how are some pirates justifying this practice? By calling themselves “heroes running away from poverty.” Adbulahi also says he likes to think of the piracy not as a criminal act but as a sort of road tax. “We will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea,” he says.

Whole thing here. More from Gadling on pirates here.

Australian cruise ship mistakes tuna fishermen for pirates

Everyone was on edge aboard the MV Athena as it passed through the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday night, local time. The gulf has become a hot spot for pirate activity. Earlier in the week a large cruise ship on its way from Rome to Singapore, outran pirates after they opened fire from their skiffs. So when a group of boats surrounded the Athena, the captain ordered passengers off the deck as crew members prepared for the worst. The captain reported to the relevant authorities that 30 boats had surrounded his vessel.

However, no shots were fired and no attempts to board were made. That’s probably because the “pirates” were actually not pirates at all. They were fishermen in search of tuna. A spokesperson from Classic International Cruises Australia, the company that owns the Athena, explained the situation.

“The captain followed all security measures as far as readiness on board for any eventuality by placing fire hoses around the decks and continually liaised with all authorities. It has been confirmed that the approaching small ships were a tuna fishing fleet.”