There were 87 incidents of ship piracy between January and June this year, according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) — 10 fewer than the same time last year. The organization says this indicates a “continuing decline” of such events.
But recent news of a Princess Cruises ship being forced into blackout mode for several days over a pirate threat left some social media users startled.
A report from IMB PRC shows that cruise ships are actually quite safe from pirates, who more commonly target merchant ships and smaller dhow boats. Such pirates are known to carry weapons, and threaten to injure ship crew members and passengers in order to seize goods.
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“The number of reported incidents involving cruise ships is very low, but of course if going through a high-risk area, then such ships should take precautions,” the International Maritime Organization (IMO) wrote in an email to Global News.
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How common are pirate attacks on ships?
The IMO highlighted that there were no reports of piracy incidents involving passenger ships in 2016. There was one incident this year in the Philippines that involved a ferry, and another incident on a local passenger ship in Papua New Guinea in 2015.
In 2016, the IMO recorded 221 “piracy and armed robbery incidents,” which was 82 fewer than the 303 incidents in 2015.
Where is there increased threat of pirate attacks?
The IMB PRC has a 24-hour service that allows ships to report pirate threats and other incidents. Its data points to the Gulf of Aden (off the cost of Somalia) as a high-risk area.
“The piracy report urges ship masters to maintain high levels of vigilance when transiting the high-risk area and to adhere to the latest version of best management practices,” it said.
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The Princess Cruises ship, which was on a 104-day trip around the world, went into “ghost” mode as it travelled through the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. Ghost mode meant the ship stopped all live entertainment, drew in curtains, and dimmed lights daily from dusk until dawn.
In a statement emailed to Global News, the company said this was done “out of an abundance caution.”
“We do not discuss specific security procedures or equipment on our vessels. In addition to our normal ongoing security training, additional piracy specific training is conducted prior to any of our vessels entering areas of concern. Any measures aboard Sea Princess were simply taken out of an abundance caution and not in response to a specific concern. The safety and security of our guests and crew is our number one priority.”
How should ships react to pirate threats?
The IMO provides companies with guidelines on how to prepare for, and react to, pirate attacks.
“Pirates and armed robbers are usually well-organized and equipped with weapons. Crew should not display aggressive responses, once an attempted boarding or attack is underway and, in particular, once the attackers have boarded the vessel, as this could significantly increase the risk to the vessel and those on board,” the IMO document reads.
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It urges ships to enforce a 24-hour security watch, seal off access to the ship, and properly train crew members.
It adds that water hoses can be used to deter pirate from entering the ship, and discourages the use of firearms saying it would increase the risk of escalating the situation.
Other safety concerns
A study commissioned by Cruise Lines International Association evaluated incidents such as fires, technical breakdowns, passengers falling overboard, storm damage, collisions and sinking.
The April 2017 study found that over the past eight years, significant incidents — ones that lead to a 24-hour delay or more, deaths, or serious injury — became less common, and averaged around 19 per year.
The study highlighted that cruise ships and airplanes have had “very similar” safety records.
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Staying safe on a cruise
According to the Government of Canada, travelling on a cruise ship requires the same safety checks as other vacations.
It advises Canadians to exercise basic caution such as travelling with essential medication, lock cabin and balcony doors while on the cruise, book land excursions through reputable sources, and purchase travel insurance.
Find more tips here.
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