Last week, our maritime law firm discussed the increasing tensions in the Middle East and how cruise lines might soon need to modify itineraries – if not drop all port calls in Israel – if the conflict over the Gaza Strip continues. Israel and Palestine have been in a state of unrest over the rights to the Gaza Strip for years, but recently, the conflict has become aggressive once more, with both countries exchanging threats and attacks. There is a huge risk that a cruise ship sailing near the area – which many frequently do – will become a casualty of the conflict, which our maritime attorney Jason Margulies addressed in a previous blog. Ashdod and Haifa are two cities that cruise ships call on frequently, and if cruise lines do not cease these port calls, they might get caught in the line of fire.
Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that our fear has already come to pass. According to an article on telegraph.co.uk, an AIDA Cruises ship that had been sailing near the Israeli coast was hit with debris from a missile last month.
The 2,000-plus passenger ship AIDAdiva (a Carnival Corp.-owned cruise line) was departing the port of Ashdod when an attack on the city occurred. Passengers were notified immediately by cruise operators, but explosions could still be seen and felt as the vessel attempted to gain distance from the line of fire. However, the attacks were so sudden that the ship did not have enough time to sail away from the port before getting hit with debris from a missile.
Allegedly, no one was injured, but AIDA’s initial reaction to this extremely severe incident was rather disturbing. According to Hansjörg Kunze, AIDA vice president of communication and sustainability, “All 2,700 guests and crew members of AIDAdiva are doing well… however, small particles that may come from defense missiles, as experts have estimated, were found on the open deck. They do not constitute a danger and were secured immediately by the crew.”
The debris does not “constitute a danger”? The fact that a cruise ship filled with thousands of passenger and hundreds of crew members was hit by missile debris because cruise operators chose not to cancel port calls in Ashdod – despite knowing of the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine – isn’t a real danger? If being caught in the warfare isn’t a danger, we can’t image what is. Is sailing to Israeli ports that can get attacked at any given moment not a huge risk to everyone aboard? What if the missile debris had actually hit someone on board the ship? Then would it be dangerous enough?
We are baffled that such a statement could be uttered by the cruise line. The cruise industry as a whole has a responsibility to provide a safe cruising environment for both passengers and crew members, and this includes avoiding calling on ports that may be dangerous. Israeli ports are now dangerous given the Gaza Strip conflict, and if cruise lines don’t start pulling out of Israel, a much more serious accident could occur.
Luckily, AIDA later decided to cancel port calls in Israel following the attack, but the manner in which the cruise company responded to the accident is still shocking. Yesterday, our maritime attorney also reported that several other cruise lines announced port cancellations due to the Gaza Strip conflict, including Crystal Cruises, Costa Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and sister line Oceania. Hopefully all other cruise lines follow suit and cancel calls in Israel before a much more serious incident takes place.