Traveling on a cruise ship is relatively safe in comparison to other methods of transportation.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling on a cruise ship was safe. When the pandemic allows cruisers to return to the sea, additional safety enhancements will be in place with the already established policies and protocols. The safety additions are to protect crew, passengers, and the locals of cruise ports and destinations. Cruising will be safe to resume once ready.
The Cruise Lines International Association, also known as CLIA, works with government officials, medical experts, and the CDC to ensure crew members’ and guests’ well-being and safety. There are also steps you can take to help maintain your well-being and the other guests on the cruise ship.
Cruise Ship Safety Starts Before You Board
The odds of dying on a cruise ship are roughly 1 in 6.25 million. Cruising is still one of the safest forms of recreation and travel. As ships have evolved and grown more extensive, they have also significantly improved in their safety.
Every summer, millions of individuals take a cruise. Most of those individuals have a memorable experience. Over the past few years, there have been numerous reports of missing persons and cruise ship crime. While it may seem like the cruise ship industry has a problem, the reality is that they do not. Cruise ship accidents are few and far between.
Even though you are safe aboard a cruise ship, you should still take precautions to protect yourself, your family, and your belongings. There are several steps that you can take. Most of these precautions are simple and can be done with little or no effort. Despite being simple, these precautions could keep you safe and your finances in check when you are on a cruise.
Many individuals believe that cruise ship safety should begin once they board the ship; however, it should start well in advance. When traveling on a cruise ship, you will likely visit foreign countries. In the event of a mistake or disaster, you are encouraged to have all your essential documents on hand. These documents should include your passport and driver’s license. Before boarding your cruise ship, you are encouraged to make copies of all these documents. In addition to the originals, you should carry a copy with you and leave the other home.
In addition to personal safety, the safety of your belongings should also be necessary. If you are traveling with expensive luggage or large sums of money, you may want to take extra precautions. Before you leave home, you may want to consider leaving your costly belongings behind. Most cruise ships will not reimburse their passengers for lost money or belongings; therefore, you might not want to bring it if you cannot afford to replace it. According to FBI statistics, most cases of reported theft over $10,000 on cruise ships involve jewelry.
Are Cruise Ships Safer Than Planes?
Cruising is Statistically the Safest Form of Travel. In 2016, the cruise industry carried an estimated 23 million passengers. They are even safer than commercial flights, which are widely known as a secure form of travel.
In 2010 Congress found that “Passengers on cruise vessels have an inadequate appreciation of their potential vulnerability to crime while on ocean voyages, and those who may be victimized lack the information they need to understand their legal rights or to know whom to contact for help in the immediate aftermath of the crime.”
Being aware of the potential for a crime on a cruise ship and knowing who to contact in an unlikely event are the first steps to staying safe. As the FBI says, cruises are not a vacation from vigilance. One FBI special agent says you should liken going on a cruise to traveling to a small city.
When you finally board your cruise ship, there are several steps that you should take to ensure your safety. These steps include familiarizing yourself with the cruise ship. Today’s most popular cruise ships are large. It may take some time to examine the ship, but you are still encouraged to do so. In addition to physically seeing the ship, it is advised that you request a map. The ship map should always be carried with you; it may come in handy if you lose your way.
Familiarizing yourself with your cruise ship is essential, but so is familiarizing yourself with other passengers. You do not have to be outgoing or social to accomplish this. Keeping an eye out for individuals that appear to be shady or mysterious is a great way to protect yourself. If you were on land, you would likely avoid individuals that make you feel uncomfortable. The same should apply aboard a cruise ship.
You might not consider it at first, but this includes being vigilant of the crew members aboard your ship. Between 2002 and 2007, 46 percent of cruise ship crimes on the high sea investigated by the FBI involved cruise line employees as suspects.
When walking around a cruise ship, you are advised not to travel alone—as with land, traveling with others is likely to reduce or eliminate your chances of becoming a crime victim. If you must move around the ship alone, you need to inform several individuals where you will be headed and when you expect to return. If something does happen, a relative or friend should know exactly where to find you.
The most recent statistics show that, while still overall extremely rare, sexual assault is by far the most severe likely crime passengers fall victim to. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2017, those accounted for 75 percent of alleged serious crime reports by cruise ship passengers.
The steps you can take to prevent sexual assault are just as pertinent onshore as they are on the high seas. RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation, recommends these actions for preventing sexual assault:
- Find a distraction that gives you an exit opportunity
- Stay with people you trust
- Express concern about your safety to cruise ship security staff, an employee, or bartender
When it comes to theft, cash and credit cards are often the most sought-after items. Instead of carrying a purse or a wallet, you are encouraged to bring a money pouch. To offer the utmost protection, you may want to obtain a money pouch that can be worn around your neck and tucked into your shirt. These pouches often make it impossible for thieves to strike.
If you cannot use a money pouch or left yours at home, you are urged to divide up your money. Keeping your money in multiple locations may provide you with financial protection if a theft does occur. If you must use a purse, you are always encouraged to keep it with you. Women and men with wallets are urged to keep their wallets in their front pockets.
Is There Anything Not Allowed on Cruise Ships?
Some passengers will feel an increased threat to their security because of what they cannot bring aboard. It’s essential to be familiar with your cruise line’s list of prohibited items and be prepared to live without these for the extent of your vacation. This list often includes:
- Firearms and firearm replicas
- Projectile weapons
- Knives with blades exceeding a specified length
- Open razors and sharp pointed objects
- Blunt weapons such as clubs and batons
- Pepper spray, tear gas, mace, and other incapacitating substances
- Stun guns and tasers
The Federal Maritime Commission, FMC, the independent government regulatory agency that regulates all ocean-bound transportation in the U.S., maintains a useful “Know Before You Go” guide for cruise travelers. It recommends that you:
- Understand the contract you have with your cruise line as specified in your ticket information
- Be aware of your cruise line’s cancellations and deadlines policies
- Consider purchasing travel insurance
- Make sure you bring all the proper travel documents and medications with you
- Cruise Ships Online
- The Cruise Industry Has Recently Seen Notable Consumer Safety Improvements
Crime on cruise ships poses unique challenges. A Congressional finding in 2010 pointed out, “It can be difficult for professional crime investigators to immediately secure an alleged crime scene on a cruise vessel, recover evidence of an onboard offense, and identify or interview potential witnesses to the alleged crime.”
West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller reinforced that finding in a statement to CNN for a July 2013 report, “If someone steals your property or assaults you on a cruise ship, you cannot call 911 and have the police there in a few minutes.”
While each cruise line has its policies to respond to crimes and ensure customers are satisfied before 2007, there was no centralized database where consumers could find information on offenses committed aboard cruise ships. Thanks to pressure from advocacy groups like the International Cruise Victims Association, ICV, in 2007, the cruise line industry and the Coast Guard worked out a framework for voluntarily reporting incidents to the FBI. This framework includes allegations of serious crimes involving Americans on any oceangoing vessel anywhere in the world operating under any flag.
While voluntary, this was a significant first step for empowering would-be passengers with important information. The agreement enshrined the Cruise Lines International Association, CLIA, as the representative industry body for communications with the FBI and Coast Guard. CLIA members include most of the major cruise lines you have heard of and plenty you have not. At the time of this writing, there are 37 global and regional members.
As the 2007 agreement was implemented, between April 1 and August 24 that year, the FBI received 207 reports from CLIA members. Most of those, 135, were incident reports that did not require a criminal investigation.
To give you an idea of how the more severe crime allegations broke down, including some overlap, of the 72 more serious reports in those five months:
- 41 involved sexual assault
- 39 were investigated by local police departments, including those in the U.S. and abroad
- 19 involved alleged crimes committed while the cruise liner was docked
- 16 involved reports of a crime committed while a passenger was ashore in a foreign country
- 13 involved assaults with serious bodily injury
- 13 involved theft of more than $10,000, with nine of those involving jewelry
While those crime allegations are serious, to put those numbers in perspective, in 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that 67.4 million passenger nights were booked in the North American cruise market.
Are Large Cruise Ships Safe?
Further consumer safety improvements came in 2010 when what was voluntary became a requirement. On July 27 of that year, just in time for cruise season, Congress passed a law specifying that the Coast Guard must maintain an online record of alleged crimes aboard cruise ships.
Known as the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, this law did a lot more than require an online consumer report database. It wrote into black-and-white that cruise ships must take measures that include:
- Installing peepholes on passenger doors to identify people outside
- Providing crime scene preservation training for crew members
- Installing technology that detects passengers who have fallen overboard
- Restricting general crew member access to passenger rooms
- Installing video surveillance systems that are accessible to law enforcement
- Providing a passenger security guide that details the onboard security procedure and law enforcement jurisdictional information
- Maintaining medical supplies that can preserve evidence of sexual assaults and anti-retroviral medications that prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases
Exploring the potential for a crime on cruise ships ought not to deter you from enjoying your next vacation on the high seas. It is essential to be educated and know the risks that are out there. This will help to maximize your safety.
At the same time, you shouldn’t panic and should always keep the facts in perspective. The truth is that most people who take cruises are not victims of a crime. In the most recent full year that statistics are available, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports a total of 79 alleged severe crimes, 59 of those involving sexual assault against passengers that occurred on cruise ships embarking and disembarking from the United States. That same year CLIA reported its member companies hosted 11.5 million American cruise passengers.
That means your odds of being the victim of a severe alleged crime on a cruise ship are 1 in 145,570. For comparison, you face similar odds of being killed by a bolt of lightning. Cruise ships are highly regulated to ensure safety. In addition to the local and national law enforcement authorities in whose waters they operate, cruise ships are also regulated by international organizations, including:
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- United Nations (U.N.)
- International Maritime Organization (IMO)
Cruise ships are exciting and, for the most part, safe. With a few simple precautions, you can safely enjoy your vacation aboard a cruise ship without fretting over the safety of yourself and your belongings.