Cruise Ship Security

Cruise ships are like a small city where passengers are encouraged to forget their troubles and relax once onboard ship. It is natural for passengers on vacation to let their guard down, especially when out to sea in a resort-like setting. My advice: Don't let a false sense of security aboard a cruise ruin your vacation by becoming a crime victim. Before you ship out, take these preventative steps:

Beware of Your Luggage

Most complaints regarding theft, damage or loss involves the contents of luggage. Savvy travelers will make a written inventory of items in their luggage and photograph it in case of loss. Carry important items like medication, eyeglasses, and expensive jewelry in your hand luggage. Photocopy the contents of your wallet and your passport. Carry a copy in your hand luggage and leave one at home as back up. Keep luggage under your control until you check in with the cruise line. Once you turn over your luggage over to the ship baggage handlers you won’t see it again for hours until it gets processed with a thousand other bags and is delivered to your cabin. A word to the wise, travel with sturdy plain-looking luggage. Expensive looking luggage may be targeted for its perceived contents. External bag tags should not list your full home address and telephone number. If they do, sophisticated home burglars will know that you are on a cruise and not be home soon.

Use durable luggage that is capable of being locked or secured and that will withstand being at the bottom of a pile of hundreds of other pieces of luggage without popping open. It is a good idea to add extra banding or airport plastic wrap or duct tape to your luggage locks to prevent anyone from opening your luggage without detection. Self-locking plastic tie-wraps work well for securing zippers on soft-sided luggage. You can buy these at any home improvement store for about a dollar. The reason for this is that smugglers have been known to slip drugs into luggage only to retrieve it later and maybe with force. Passengers have unknowingly transported cocaine that was slipped into their suitcase by baggage handlers only to be arrested later by port authorities. What explanation you would give to prove your innocence to a foreign government of why you are carrying drugs? If your luggage was properly sealed, you should see if it has been tampered with prior to opening it. Report any luggage tampering immediately to ship security before opening the case. Be sure to repack just as securely before you disembark and take similar precautions.

Cabin Security

After you enter your cabin, and while the door is still open, always check inside the bathroom or closest before sitting down inside. Don’t assume that your cabin is as secure as a hotel. Many people have keys to your cabin and your cabin door may be left standing open for hours while the cleaning crews or cabin steward services the room. Cabin doors locks are sometimes horribly outdated and are not re-keyed as frequently as hotel rooms. Obviously, don’t leave valuable items lying around. It is a good idea to have inventoried your luggage and photographed expensive items at home before you packed them at home in case of loss. Since most ship passengers are set up on a charge account system, be sure to use the ship safe deposit box for storage of valuable items, papers, credit cards or extra cash. Use all locks on the cabin door including the night latch. Don’t open your cabin door to strangers. Whatever the person wants can be expressed from the other side of the closed and locked door. Be sure to teach children about this important procedure.

Just like in a hotel, protect your cabin key and cabin number. Dishonest crew or passengers will look for the opportunity to snatch a loose key or one that is left unattended. When in port, be sure to leave your key with the registration desk before disembarking.

Stay in Public Areas

Once on board and out to sea, don’t assume that you are totally safe from criminal acts. While there is little danger of an outside predator robbing or attacking you on a cruise ship, crimes can just as easily be committed by crewmembers or by fellow passengers. Many cruise lines hire transient and seasonal employees at low wages. Because of this, turnover is high and cruise lines struggle to keep a ship fully staffed. While most crewmembers are hardworking and honest people, you cannot assume that the ship has properly screened that nice cabin attendant, waiter or below deck crew.

A rule of thumb is to stay only in the public areas. On large cruise ships, security personnel are on board and will patrol in plain clothes. Occasionally, someone will monitor video cameras in key public areas. Unlike land-based resorts, the ratio of passengers and crew to security staff is often inadequate.

Have a Family Security Plan

If you bring your children aboard, be sure to establish family rules in advance. Set curfews and restrictions...just like at home. Teenagers especially should be told never to accompany crewmembers into non-public areas nor should crewmembers be allowed inside your cabin. Being at sea can cause a false sense of security. Even though the crime incident rate per thousand is relatively low, there can still be predators on board. Ship nightclubs, casinos, swimming pools and jacuzzis are favorite spots for those looking for a victim.

You also need to keep your guard up with intoxicated passengers. Food and liquor consumption peaks onboard ships and cause bring out the worst in some people not used to it. Just because passengers are dressed up, doesn’t mean they will act appropriately or not be overly aggressive. It is not unheard of for a ship passenger to slip a drug into your drink and take advantage of you just like on shore. There are pickpockets, purse thieves, and cabin burglars onboard waiting for you to let your guard down or become careless. There are also scam artists who will prey on rich women and men if given the chance.

Your family security plan for children should include bed checks, curfews, restrictions, and special meeting places. Beware of which children they hang out with, just like at home. Your children can be exposed to other children who use drugs or like to get into mischief, just like at home. Try to limit your child to ship sponsored activities in public areas. You should make contact with your children periodically even if they are supervised. Giving them the run of the ship while you spend hours in the casino or show is asking for trouble. Always have a backup plan and identify a ship crewmember as a contact person in case your child fails to show up or you get separated at a port.

Laws May Not Protect You

Although you boarded a ship in a US port doesn’t mean that you are protected by our justice system. Most ships are registered in non-US countries and travel in territorial waters where US laws might not apply. The cruise industry does not report crime data consistently, if at all, to the FBI or have a database of ships with the most crime problems. Shipboard crimes sometimes fall into a "no man's land" of law enforcement. A crime can occur between two people of different nationalities, on a ship from a third country, and in the territorial waters of a fourth country. The governing law is the International Maritime Law and is not as well developed as US law. Reporting a crime on board a cruise ship doesn't mean anything will be done or that the crime will ever be investigated. The FBI is the only US law enforcement agency that can investigate a major crime but only if it occurs in International waters, otherwise crimes are reported to the jurisdiction of the closest foreign country and to the embassies of the parties involved. Prosecution of crime, in many cases, will be left in the hands of the local port authority where no one can predict the outcome.

Be aware that if you or your child gets into trouble on board a ship or in a port, you may be held accountable to the laws of a foreign country. The thing to do is to stay alert, be cautious, and stay safe while at sea. For details on the safety record of your cruise ship or how your ship will handle problems such are lost luggage or crime acts, contact the cruise line directly and ask for written disclosure of their policies and regulations. You can also contact the Cruise Lines International Association in New York City who represents the twenty five largest cruise lines for more information.

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