Better Your Chances for a Safe Cruise Vacation

Things to Do to Avoid Being a Crime Victim

Pickpocket at work
••• Pickpocket at work. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

A cruise ship is one of the safest places you can take a vacation. No one sets out to become a crime victim, but it can happen to anyone. There are steps you can take to lower your risk of being a crime statistic when you travel.

Before You Leave Home

Make copies of your passport, driver's license, credit cards, wallet contents, and travel documents (plane tickets, etc). You also should make a copy of the credit card "lost or stolen" notification phone numbers to include with this package.

Leave one set of copies at home with a trusted friend or family member, and take the other set with you, packed separately from the originals. Many cruise ships will hold your passport to expedite clearing the ship in foreign ports. Therefore, I always make a couple of extra copies of my passport to use to take ashore.

Buy an under-the-clothing money bag and use it. These can be quite comfortable, and will thwart "cut and run" thieves who have been known to cut purse straps or waist packs right off their victims.

Packing Your Luggage

Make a list of everything you have put in your luggage, and take pictures of it while packing in case of loss. Pack medications, eyeglasses, and valuables in a carry-on bag. (Better yet, don't take valuables like expensive jewelry with you on the cruise.) Although you need to put external (and internal) tags on your luggage, don't list your full home address on the outside.

This is a signal to expert thieves that you won't be home for a week! You really don't want to advertise to everyone at the airport where you live.

Make sure your luggage is in good shape before leaving home. You want luggage that will not pop open at an inopportune time. I've seen all sorts of baggage contents (including some "unmentionables") come out on the luggage carousels at the airport, and always felt sorry for the owners whose bags had come open.

Consider using an extra band, airport plastic wrap, or duct tape to help secure your bags. You can buy self-locking plastic tags from travel or home improvement stores for about a dollar. These work well on zippered bags.

In Your Cabin

When you first get to your cabin, check the bathroom and closet while the cabin door is still open. Use the same precautions that you would when entering a hotel room. While a ship is in port, many more people have access to it than you might imagine. Being cautious never hurt anyone. Don't leave valuables lying around in your cabin. Put your wallet and valuables in the cabin's safe or the purser's safe. Be sure to use all the locks on the door when you are asleep. Don't open the door to strangers. Protect your cabin key and cabin number.

On the Ship

Although cruise ships are relatively safe, common sense is needed even at sea. Stay in the public areas, and remember that a cruise ship and its crew and passengers are like a small city, not like your family.

If you are cruising with your children, set rules just like at home. Establish curfews for your teenagers, and caution them to not accompany crew members to non-public areas. Don't give your children "the run of the ship" while you are in the club, show, or casino.

While In Port

If you are going to be a crime victim while on a cruise, it is most likely to occur when you are ashore. Most crimes committed against cruise passengers are those of opportunity. Don't put your wallet in a pocket or a backpack. If you carry a backpack, be sure to carry it on your front when in crowded areas (like buses, subways, trains, elevators, or busy streets).

You can't put your camera inside your clothing and have it ready to snap that special picture. Keep it in a bag or hold on to it tightly.

These tips are all common sense. Use them to make your next cruise vacation a safe one!

There are two things that can ruin a wonderful vacation in a hurry. The first is to become ill or injured in an accident. The second is to become a victim of a crime. Sometimes we tend to think that everyone on a cruise ship is part of our extended family for the week. Don't let your guard down! A cruise ship is like a small city. All crimes that might happen back home can happen on the ship or while in port.

Let's talk about the steps cruise lines take to help make your vacation safer.

While on a Mediterranean cruise vacation, I met a cruise security specialist who worked for a company that consults on security issues for cruise lines. He had been to a security briefing in Barcelona, and was only on the ship for a day. I found his job fascinating and thought visitors to this Web site might too. He was kind enough to agree to answer some questions for our readers.

Question: What types of things does a Security Specialist do for a cruise line? Do most of the major cruise lines use security specialists?

Answer: Cruise lines today are as richly and diversely populated as small cities. As such, most have a security staff onboard that is responsible for ensuring the security of the ship, passengers and crew. Cruise companies often rely on companies such as CruiSecure for coordinating security requirements for the fleet, hiring shipboard security professionals, conducting risk analyses of ports, audits of ships, and providing advice on everything from casino security to counter terrorism.

Question: What types of input does your company provide to cruise lines to help them make decisions on ports of call?

Answer: Our company obtains information from a variety of government and private sources on the countries and ports our clients visit. The decision as to which ports ships will visit is based on a variety of factors, one of which is security.

It is my job to conduct a risk analysis of the port and to ensure that the port authority and regional law enforcement are aware of, and will comply with, our requirements for ensuring the security of our ship while it is in port, and our passengers while they are ashore as guests in their country.

Question: How often do you travel to cities like Barcelona to have status briefings from the city officials? How long do the meetings usually last, and who does the briefings? Do representatives attend the briefings from more than one cruise line?

Answer: Security assessments of current or projected ports of call are conducted as necessary, depending upon the individual circumstances. In the past three years, we have visited over 90 countries and 145 ports! Ports with clearly established, visible and effective security protocols may need only an annual visit, while venues with the potential for political or economic turmoil that could impact on passenger safety require more frequent monitoring. Good security is a process, and can only be effectively evaluated on site. Port security assessments usually include a survey of the port, evaluations of the shore excursions and their routes and independent venues, as well as meetings of the local, provincial, and national law enforcement communities.

Whenever possible, a call is made on the Consular and Regional Security Officers at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Question: Do the cruise lines ever collaborate on making a decision to begin service to a particular city? For example, I know that a couple of cruise lines did not cruise to Dubrovnik for several years. What types of things did Dubrovnik have to demonstrate before they decided it was safe to return? If one cruise line decided to start visiting, does that usually mean the others will soon follow?

Answer: Individual cruise lines have their own criteria for determining their travel itineraries. However, the ability to ensure the security of the ship, passengers, and crew is a critical factor all cruise lines consider. Many cruise lines belong to organizations such as the Maritime Security Council (MSC) where they meet to discuss and develop strategies, policies, and procedures for dealing with issues of crime and security in the international maritime community.

Representatives of the various international ports authorities, as well as representatives of the Ministries of Travel, Tourism, and Justice from countries on cruise ship travel itineraries, are invited to attend the MSC meetings where they interact directly with maritime security professionals.

Question: What is the most common crime against passengers?

Answer: Crimes of any kind are extraordinarily rare, and the passenger is more vulnerable ashore than onboard the ship. Most crimes against passengers are crimes of opportunity, such as petty theft or pickpockets, which can usually be avoided.

Question: What types of things can passengers do to help prevent being a crime victim?

Answer: Passengers should take basic common sense precautions such as: (1) leaving their valuables locked in their cabin safe when going ashore, (2) traveling with an organized group instead of alone, and (3) limiting shore transportation and tours to those companies and drivers contracted or approved by the cruise line.

Question: I would never travel with anything very valuable, but if someone did, would they be better off locking it in the hotel/cruise line's main safe?

Answer: Cabin safes are often provided for cruise passengers to permit them to store their valuables in a secure location to which they have immediate access and control. It is always better for a passenger to use the safe in their cabin than not to use it at all.

In summary, passenger cruise lines exist to provide a safe, relaxing and enjoyable vacation experience for the cruise passenger. In order to do so, security needs to be sufficient to fully address the potential security challenges of the particular itinerary, without being so conspicuous as to cause concern to the passengers. Good cruise ship security is almost transparent and quietly effective. The goal of the cruise security professional is to create a secure environment that allows the passengers to enjoy their vacation experience without any concerns about their security.

In these days of terrorism and piracy, cruise lines are working even harder to protect their passengers, crew, and ships. Governments have partnered with the cruise lines to increase security in port. Passengers can do their part by being more vigilant, but you are still much more likely to be the victim of a crime than of a terrorist attack.

Be alert, protect your belongings, and have a safe cruise vacation!