Cruising in a Time of tERrOR

By Keene, Tony | Sea Classics, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Cruising in a Time of tERrOR


Keene, Tony, Sea Classics


SEALS, Bobbies and Ghurkas protect passengers in wake of 9-11

Three days after coalition forces began their offensive against Iraq, the magnificent cruise ship MV Norwegian Sun quietly slipped from Miami, Florida, and headed to sea for a seven-day cruise of the western Caribbean. The 2000 passengers on board, largely American, Canadian, and British, found themselves safely in the hands of a former British policeman and a team of ten Nepalis, many of them former soldiers in the British Army's famed Ghurka regiments.

"Our main concern is to prevent unauthorized entry to the ship by anyone," says Security Officer Ernie Laughton, a veteran of 31 years service with British police forces. "The main effort was quite rightly concentrated on airlines, but passenger and cargo ships are also vulnerable, because the potential to hide contraband and people on a ship is immense. There is certainly a threat."

Laughton regularly briefs the ship's entire 958-person crew and staff on the need for vigilance. He regularly conducts training exercises with his Nepalese personnel, and American and British Coast Guard forces on both sides of the Atlantic also spring surprise inspections. Coast Guard members also try to get aboard the ship by ruse, pretending to be passengers. So far, the Ghurkas have caught them all. On one occasion, during an exercise security sweep of the entire ship, a Coast Guard member hid in the shower stall of a stateroom, with the curtain closed. A diligent steward found him.

"There is a multitude of things that can be used to hurt people," Laughton says. "We must be more vigilant because if anything happens, on any cruise ship anywhere in the world, we'll all be out of a job."

Ghurkas are employed aboard every ship in Norwegian Cruise Lines fleet. The line's Director of Security, Matt Lewis, is a 20-year veteran of the United States Navy and a former SEAL. He has worked with a variety of federal and foreign agencies as a security advisor, and is considered to be a leading authority on on cruise ship and cargo vessel security, and an anti-terrorism expert.

When American vacationers avoided airlines in droves after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in September 2001, the cruise industry experienced a boom. Basing their ships in American ports, the companies had a windfall, with every berth filled. It was not unusual for vacationers to drive great distances in order to join cruise ships in Florida, Texas, and on the West Coast. Cruising was seen as a safe alternative to flying.

Yet the violent and tragic hijacking of the liner Achille Lauro in 1985 shows only too well that a ship can be a vulnerable terrorist target. Laughton believes that, in hindsight, proper training and vigilance could easily have averted that tragedy. …

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