Why target cruise liners?

Luxury ships may be attractive but taking control of the vessel is a formidable challenge

In this photo taken Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, masked Somali pirate Abdi Ali stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. The empty whisky bottles and overturned, sand-filled skiffs that litter this shoreline are signs that the heyday of Somali piracy may be over - most of the prostitutes are gone, the luxury cars repossessed, and pirates talk more about catching lobsters than seizing cargo ships. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
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Cruise liners have been targeted by pirate gangs due to the value of goods on board.

“Cruise liners are very attractive because of media impact, value of passengers and crew, value of items onboard such as watches, cash, tablets," said Peter Cook, director of PCA Maritime Ltd, a maritime consultancy.

"However, the sheer volume of people on a cruise liner probably makes the hijacking of a vessel for the purpose of holding the crew and passengers hostage for a ransom probably impractical.

“Taking control of a cruise ship is a formidable challenge, which is why we haven’t seen it happening - the risk versus return equation is not in favour of the hijackers.”


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While pirates have not successfully hijacked a cruise ship, some luxury vessels were attacked during the first spike in piracy in the mid-2000s.

“The most recent attack on a cruise liner was on 26 November, 2012 when several small pirate skiffs approached the Azmara Journey but after the ship carried out evasive manoeuvres and three warning shots were fired by the embarked privately contracted armed security personnel, the pirates ceased the attack," Mr Cook said.

When under attack, he said passengers must be off the deck and inside the ship, the vessel would conduct zig-zagging manoeuvres to make it difficult for the pirates to board.

“There may be fire hoses to squirt powerful jets of water at the pirates, which would make it very difficult for them to climb onto the ship.  There may be barriers erected along the areas of low freeboard (distance from sea to deck), again to deter and prevent pirates boarding the ship.”

Some of these tactics were deployed in the past and have kept cruise passengers safe.

One of the first attacks on a cruise ship was on November 5, 2005 when the Seabourn Spirit was attacked by pirates off the Somalia coast.

The ship had installed a long range acoustic device or LRAD and directed this at two small skiffs when pirates fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at it. The captain also shifted to high speed and changed course to elude the raiders.

On November 30, 2008, pirates in skiffs chased Oceania Cruises' ship Nautica as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden. When two skiffs fired shots at the ship and attempted to close in, the captain increased speed to push away.

On April 25, 2009, security on board MSC Melody returned fire when pirates attacked and attempted to board with a hooked ladder off the coast of Seychelles. The ship also used a fire hose to target the pirates, who eventually gave up.