Cruising? Watch Out For Pirates! (Yes, There Are Modern-Day Pirates That Attack Cruise Ships)

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I don’t go cruising very much. The main reason for this is me – I just don’t like cruising. It’s not from a lack of trying, either…I’ve been on four Disney cruises and one Holland American cruise. I’ve been on 3 night, 4 night and 7 night cruises. I’ve been to the Western Caribbean, Mexico and Alaska, And although there are a few highlights here and there, and as much as I WANT to enjoy myself on cruises, I’ve always just been pretty “meh” about cruising.

So since cruises are kind of low on my travel radar, my eyes opened a little wider when a friend posted this on her Facebook while on a cruise:



Dear Celebrity Constellation Guest,

I am writing with important information regarding our upcoming passage through the Gulf of Aden. As you may be aware, pirate activity has occurred in the Gulf of Aden during the past few years. Between November 19th and November 21st, we will be traveling through the area where this pirate activity has taken place. Although I don’t expect to experience any problems, I want to share some information with you about our preparations and our plan in the event we encounter difficulties.

Our company closely monitors piracy activity in the Gulf of Aden, and works with law enforcement, intelligence and military organizations to ensure we are well prepared for our sailing. Based on what we have learned, it is clear that our ship is quite different from ships targeted by pirates. In addition to being faster and more maneuverable, we also have more security staff than the ships being targeted.

During the passage, we will have lockouts in place around the ship. For the safety of our guests and crew, the open Decks 4, 5, 11 and 12 will be closed from subset to sunrise each evening between November 19th and November 21st. Also, in order to improve our ability to look out into the sea at night, we will turn off several external lights. All Decks will be open during the day. At night, while we are on the Gulf of Aden, we ask that you keep stateroom curtains closed and balcony lights off.

During our transit of the Gulf of Aden, we will likely encounter many small fishing boats. Out of simple curiosity some of the boats may sail in our direction. If that happens, I make take steps to keep them at a distance, including changing our course, or even weaving from side to side to discourage them from getting too close. There is no reason to be concerned over the actions, however in the unlikely event that we encounter pirates, I will make an announcement and may ask you to move away from the sides of the ships. Should this be necessary, please remain calm and quickly follow instructions provided to you at that time. I will use the code word “Safe Haven” and further guide you with announcements.

Following a “Safe Haven” announcement, guests with inside staterooms should stay in their rooms. Guests with outside staterooms should move into the corridors outside their stateroom. Stateroom attendants will be assisting guests in outside staterooms, while crew members in the lounges throughout the ship and on the open decks will direct guests to move away from any windows and towards the center of the ship. On November 18th at 10:00am, we will conduct a drill for all guests and crew to help you further understand these procedures.

The safety of our guests and crew is our highest priority, and I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about our efforts in this important area. Our crew members, security teams and procedures are capable of responding to a wide variety of challengers, including those that may arise in the Gulf of Aden. It is worth noting that previous ships from Royal Caribbean International, Azamara Club Cruises, and many other cruise lines have just recently passed through the Gulf of Aden without incident. We expect that to be out experience as well.

I will continue to provide you with additional updates. Out entire onboard tear will it’s [sic] very best to make your cruise vacation as enjoyable as possible.


So…yeah. Pirates. And these aren’t Blackbeard or Captain Jack Sparrow. There aren’t any peg legs, eye patches or hooks for hands. These are real life pirates, usually angry young men, carrying guns, rifles, grenades and missiles.


Fortunately for the cruise industry, pirates tend to attack cargo vessels and oil tankers much more often than they do cruise ships. But that doesn’t mean cruise ships are exempt. In fact, as per Cruise Critic, pirates have attacked cruise ships about a half dozen times in the past decade and change:

  • In 2005, Seabourn Spirit was about 100 miles off the coast of Somalia when pirates fired AK-47 machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in an attempt to highjack the ship. They failed.
  • An April 2008 pirate attack on Le Ponant, a French luxury sailing vessel, was more successful. The ship (sailing crew-only) was hijacked; crew members were ultimately rescued, and the ship was recovered after a ransom was paid.
  • Later that month, Oceania’s Nautica thwarted an attempted attack by pirates while sailing through the Gulf of Aden.
  • A year later, in April 2009, MSC Cruises’ former MSC Melody experienced perhaps the most infamous cruise ship pirate attack. Following a late-night outdoor classical music concert, several passengers spotted a skiff heading toward the ship and notified crew members. Cruisers then began hurling deck chairs overboard to keep the pirates from climbing the side of the vessel, and the pirates opened fire. No one was seriously injured, and eventually, thanks to evasive maneuvers by the captain and trained Israeli security officers who were stationed onboard, the pirates gave up — but not before a strange call was placed to the bridge in broken English, requesting Melody’s coordinates.
  • Fast-forward two years; in January 2011, now-defunct Spirit of Adventure’s ship of the same name encountered suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean. The captain ordered the ship to be brought up to full speed, and the pursuing boat eventually gave up the chase.
  • The next attempt came in November 2012, when several small boats approached Azamara Journey. The ship’s captain and crew employed unspecified tactics to evade the pirates. Although it was never confirmed, it was rumored that at least three warning flares were fired to deter the attackers.

Just gives you warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Based on the letter my friend got, I guess there’s comfort in knowing that commercial cruise lines appear to be very prepared for the possibility of pirates. But it’s certainly not encouraging me to go on another cruise, especially in that area of the world, any time soon.

* A huge thank-you to Cathy and Greg K. for posting the letter on her FB while on their cruise. BTW, their passage through the Gulf of Aden was, thankfully, uneventful 😉

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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