Keeping Safe At Sea

George Smith, Merrian Carver, Annette Mizener, Lynsey O’Brien. All these people have disappeared from a cruise ship in the past two years; all are presumed dead. This is a horror that no family should ever have to face. The cases are especially painful because the full stories will probably never be told. There is just too much unknown about them, too much to uncover from hundreds of miles out to sea.

A while back, I suggested some common-sense tips for cruise safety. Had these folks followed that advice, I venture to say that some would still be with us today — perhaps planning another dream cruise. But then I got to wondering: Just what do the cruise lines do to ensure the safety of their passengers?

I have been on many cruises in the past and am looking forward to one in August, on the Freedom of the Seas, and another in October, a “Cruise for a Cause” on Carnival’s Fantasy.Having never noticed an obvious security presence on cruise ships, I asked Jennifer De La Cruz (an appropriate name if I’ve ever heard one), Director of Public Relations for Carnival Cruise Lines to fill me in.

Q: OK, so I’m stumbling back to my cabin (hypothetically, of course) after a fantastic night in the disco. Way down the hallway, I see a couple of guys in a pretty serious fight. What am I supposed to do? How does Carnival react to this?

A: Each Carnival ship employs a team of visible uniformed security personnel. Guests who witness a situation that they feel warrants attention can speak to a member of the security team at any time or ask any shipboard employee to call security. Guests can also contact the purser’s office via any shipboard telephone or in person at the purser’s information desk, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In emergency situations, guests can also dial 911 from any shipboard phone at any time.

Q: Say something happens to me on board and I feel that the response was insufficient. What should I do?

A: Guests can always talk to the purser’s office with any concerns or questions regarding any subject on board. If guests are not satisfied with the resolution, they are welcome to talk to the shipboard department head or the hotel director, who oversees all hotel systems on board. Although it is recommended that guests bring any concerns regarding their cruise to the attention of shipboard staff who can address the situation while on board, guests are also welcome to contact Carnival’s Guest Relations Department either in writing or by calling toll-free 1-800-438-6744, ext. 71555, following their voyage.

Q: I know you must keep records of incidents at sea. How prevalent are these incidents?

A: Carnival Cruise Lines carried 3.3 million passengers in 2005 — more than any other cruise line. Incidents such as those described above are extremely rare, and the overwhelming majority of Carnival guests enjoy their cruise, as indicated by a satisfaction rating of 98.5 percent. Cruising remains the safest mode of transportation available.

Q: Without giving away sensitive security information, can you tell me a little about the staff and training, as well as the systems on board to ensure safety?

A: The safety and security of our guests and employees is our highest priority. While we are not permitted to discuss specific elements of our security program so as not to undermine those efforts, we can assure our guests and travel partners that we are at a heightened security status and that the safety of our guests and crew is of paramount importance.

Carnival maintains a high level of security through an onboard uniformed security force, which works in tandem with Carnival’s shoreside security department, which is made up of former law enforcement professionals. Carnival security personnel are required to have previous experience in one of the following areas: the military, law enforcement or private security.

While security personnel who join the company are already experienced in basic security procedures, they still attend seminars at least once a year that include updates on any new security procedures, as well as training in specialized areas such as terrorism and bomb detection. Security personnel also undergo ongoing training in first aid, fire prevention, firefighting, crime scene investigation, and crisis and crowd control management.

Well, I have to admit, I had never really given much thought to security on board a cruise ship. I have sailed with Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Crystal, Holland America and even the defunct Premier Cruise Line, and I have never once witnessed anything that I would consider to be an “incident.” I’ve never heard of any rapes or unwanted passes, nary a mention of a ransacked stateroom and certainly never a story of a man overboard. I imagine that with all the scrutiny, all ships have programs like Carnival’s in place for guests’ safety.

So, how safe is cruising? A cruise vacation is certainly as safe as any other vacation, and more safe than most. I’d wager that you’re more at risk venturing to your local 7-Eleven, especially if it’s in Washington, D.C., where Police Chief Charles Ramsey recently declared a “citywide crime emergency” because tourists were being attacked on the National Mall and the murder rate had gone sky-high. People just need to be responsible for their behavior when they are cruising, and they need to remain vigilant. It is a really simple formula.

I am a single dad, and I would never put my kids in jeopardy. I have traveled with my kids to China, Italy, Spain, England, France, Mexico and most of the Caribbean. To be honest, I feel safer and more in control when I take the kids on a cruise than when we head out on a land-based trip. Perhaps it’s because we are a captive audience, or perhaps it’s just intrinsically a safer vacation.

But instead of taking my word for it, book a cruise and see for yourself. Tripso is sponsoring a Cruise for a Cause with Carnival in October that visits New Orleans and Cozumel. Why not take four days off and experience cruising for yourself!

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