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Safety on Cruise Ships
Cruise Ship Safety
by Rickee Richardson, Senior Editor

One question that is foremost in potential cruisers'' minds seems to be "Is cruising safe?" Since 9/11 there have been new reports about cruise ships being the target of terrorists and of "massive" outbreaks of the Norwalk virus. If you believe everything you read in the newspaper or see on television, you might never leave your house!

The cruise industry''s highest priority is to ensure the safety and security of its passengers and crew. During the past two decades, North American cruise lines have maintained the best safety record in the travel industry while transporting more than 90 million people throughout the world. Cruise ships have, for the most part, always adhered to very strict security guidelines and practices. While the cruise lines and governments around the world have tightened and refined security after recent events, cruise ships have always been relatively secure.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, cruise lines implemented what they call "Level 3" security measures, as outlined by the U.S. Coast Guard''s "Security for Passenger Vessels and Passenger Terminals" regulations. These measures include:
  • Screening of all passenger baggage, carry-on luggage, ship stores and cargo; intensified screening of passenger lists and passenger identification; close coordination with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and other federal agencies to ensure that any passengers or crew suspected of being on the INS "Prevent Departure" list are promptly reported to the federal authorities.
  • Restricting access to any sensitive vessel areas, such as the bridge and the engine room.
  • Implementing onboard security measures to deter unauthorized entry and illegal activity.
  • Requiring all commercial vessels to give 96 hours notice before entering U.S. ports. Previously, ships had to give 24 hours notice.
  • Maintaining a 100-yard security zone around cruise ships.
Onboard Safety

A cruise ship is a "controlled-access environment" which means that, when a ship is in port, there are only one or two ways passengers and crew can enter the vessel. These entry points are manned by security personnel and ID''s are checked and, usually, packages and belongings must pass through an X-ray machine while passengers and crew pass through metal detectors.  It is highly unlikely that anyone would be able to board the ship that doesn''t belong there.

Crew and port officials examine every shipment of supplies that are brought onboard and every piece of luggage that goes on the ship is thoroughly inspected by an x-ray machine. While the ship is in port, personnel are posted on deck to keep watch.  Security onboard varies from line to line and ship to ship. Some cruise lines hire former military and naval personnel to implement and oversee their security, whiles others hire private security firms or former law enforcement officers. In the past, most security measures were intended to deal with passenger disturbances, but the focus now is on maintaining a safe and secure environment, eliminating or minimizing the threat of harm to passengers, crew and ship.

Most cruise ships today have an automated system linked to the ID card/room key issued to each passenger upon embarkation. This system enables security personnel to know, at the touch of a button, who is on or off the ship at any given time. There are also surveillance cameras placed throughout the ship enabling security personnel, officers, staff and crew to visually monitor virtually every area of the ship.

All cruise ships carry a team of dedicated fire-fighters, and additionally, all ship''s personnel are trained in shipboard fires and undergo training and drills regularly. The average response time in an emergency is a matter of minutes, as members of the trained firefighting teams and firefighting equipment lockers are located throughout the ship. In the unlikely event of a dangerous fire, passengers are loaded into lifeboats to await a rescue ship which in most cases arrives within a matter of hours. It is the passenger''s responsibility to pay attention to the lifeboat drill when boarding and to know their muster station. When passengers follow instructions and remain calm everything works well. Additionally, Coast Guard personnel monitor firefighting and abandon ship drills on all cruise ships.

Individual cruise lines have their own criteria for determining their travel itineraries. However, the ability to ensure the security of the ship, passengers, and crew is a critical factor all cruise lines consider. The cruise lines obtain information from a variety of government and private sources on the countries and ports their clients visit. The decision as to which ports ships will visit is based on a variety of factors, one of which is security. A risk analysis of the port is conducted to ensure that the port authority and regional law enforcement are aware of, and will comply with, requirements for ensuring the security of the ship while it is in port, and passengers while they are ashore as guests in their country.

Common Sense Helps

Statistically, cruise ships are safer than hotels and resorts when it comes to fires and violent crime. However, it is in your best interest not to abandon common sense just because you board a cruise ship for a wonderful vacation. For example, don''t leave valuables lying around in your cabin. Put your wallet and valuables in the cabin''s safe or the purser''s safe. Be sure to use all the locks on the door when you are asleep. Protect your cabin key and cabin number. Do not invite strangers into your room. Don''t go into areas marked "No access." Don''t get drunk and sit on the railing.

Take your common sense with you when you go ashore. Reading up on local customs and dangers before you go is always a good idea. Don''t dress flamboyantly, wear expensive jewelry or flash wads of money around. It is best to wear an under-the-clothing money belt but, if you must take a purse, be sure you can wear it with the strap across your body. Men, if you must carry a wallet, keep it in a front pocket and put a little money in each pocket. Keep cameras and purses in your lap when dining, not hung on the back of the chair or on the floor. Beware of that handsome stranger offering to change your money at a better than market rate. It''s most likely a scam! Watch out for groups of kids who are often well-organized gangs of pickpockets. One will distract you while another lifts your wallet. Even that gypsy lady with a baby (often only a doll) will distract you while a partner strips you of your belongings. It''s best to take only one credit card ashore with you.

Before you leave home, make a few copies of your passport, driver''s license, credit cards and travel documents (such as airline tickets) and leave a set with a trusted friend or family member at home. Be sure to have a copy of the credit card company''s contact number in case of lost or stolen cards. Pack the copies in a different place than you have the original documents. Leave the copies in a safe place on your ship and take a copy of your passport ID page with you when you go ashore.

Cruise lines exist to provide a safe, relaxing and enjoyable vacation experience for the cruise passenger. Good cruise ship security is almost transparent and quietly effective. With a little common sense and vigilance, anyone should be able to have a safe cruise vacation.




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