CNN has reported a very disturbing story which revealed that investigators had obtained more than 100 al Qaeda documents outlining plots for the terrorist group. Among their plans, seizing cruise ships and killing passengers! The investigative journalist who reported on the documents is named Yassin Musharbash, a reporter with a German newspaper Die Zeit. According to this journalist, the writer of the document “says that we could hijack a passenger ship and use it to pressurize the public.”
This has been interpreted to mean that the terrorists would then start executing passengers on the cruise ship until their demands to release prisoners were met.
The terrorist plan is also reported to have included dressing up passengers in orange jumpsuits, to make them look like al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and to then videotape their execution.
I previously testified in Congress during Congressional Hearings addressing security and safety aboard passenger cruise ships. The Congressmen at the hearing were very concerned about what security measures the cruise ship had in effect to deal not only with shipboard criminal activity that was being investigated, but also inquiries were made regarding addressing potential terrorist attacks. At the hearing, the representatives from cruise line industry indicated that they had well established security measures in effect to address potential terrorist attacks, but requested that they not be required to divulge those measures during a public hearing. This request was granted. Accordingly, I was not privy to any revelation by the cruise line as to the specific security measures in effect to deal with a potential terrorist attack.
It is apparent that a terrorist attack on a cruise ship is very much a concern, and has been recognized by Homeland Security and the cruise ship industry to be a real concern that must be guarded against. Exactly what measures are in effect to deal with a potential terrorist attack are unknown. However, as the cruise ships become known as mega cruise ships, with thousands of passengers onboard the cruise ship, they become a more attractive target of a terrorist group such as al Qaeda.
We have been reading a lot about the risk of cruising, including the fact that there are criminal acts occurring onboard cruise ships, including sexual assaults and rapes, as well as people going overboard and disappearing on cruise ships. We also read a lot about the norovirus, which seems to attack the cruise ships on a somewhat frequent occurrence. The public is also been focusing on the recent Costa Concordia disaster, and the concerns arising from the disaster, including whether thousands of passengers and crews can be safely evacuated from a cruise ship during an emergency.
Again, cruise ships are touted as being extremely safe for vacations and travel. Although I’m a safety advocate for passengers and crewmembers who are harmed at sea, and have been handling maritime, personal injury and wrongful death claims for almost 30 years, I too feel that a vacation on a cruise ship is a wonderful way to spend a vacation. We must trust that our Homeland Security, and the cruise ship industry, have stepped up to the plate and made sure that there are appropriate safety measures in effect to address potential terrorist attacks of a cruise ship.