Our cruise ship lawyers here at LM&W have just heard about a recent tragic incident that has left several cruise passengers dead. According to news reports, 17 passengers on board Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises who were visiting Tunis were killed in a terrorist attack. The tourists were later fatally shot inside a museum in Tunisia.
According to USA Today, the two gunmen were tied to the Islamist State militant organization. A total of 21 people were killed, 17 of which had been passengers on board the MSC Splendida and Costa Fascinosa. While none of the people injured were North American, the terrorist attack raises questions about the safety of North American passengers who travel to, and participate in, shore excursions at politically volatile ports of call.
It’s no secret that cruise lines travel to sometimes politically fraught nations. Cruises also often visit areas that are wrought with crime, sometimes so much so that passengers often face risk to personal safety and valuables if they leave the small “secure” tourist areas. And, even these “secure” areas may be unsafe.
What’s disturbing is that this isn’t the first time Tunisia has posed a risk to cruise travelers. Back in 2012, our cruise ship attorneys reported on how several cruise lines canceled port calls in Tunisia after Islamic terrorists attacked the American embassy in protest of an American film. Yet, after the attack, several other cruise lines still called on the nation, and even after this recent incident, a number of cruise operators continue to do so.
As it stands, many major cruise lines feature Tunisia as a port in their itineraries. These lines include P&O, Oceania, Holland America, and Princess Cruises. In response to the terrorist attacks, Princess Cruises has told USA Today that it is cancelling its June 1st stop in Tunisia. Yet, later stops are not cancelled, but are “being evaluated” by the cruise. P&O Cruises will operate as scheduled, though the cruise line’s representatives claim to be monitoring the situation closely. Holland America is also following suit by closely monitoring the situation. But is this enough? There’s only so much a cruise line can “monitor” when a nation is undergoing a tumultuous time.
It is unclear what will need to happen for these lines to decide to stop visiting Tunisia. The fact that several people have died doesn’t seem to be enough. Of course, we understand that a single terrorist attack doesn’t necessarily mean that other attacks will occur. But given that Tunisia has been an area where previous acts of terrorism have transpired, this should be enough for cruise lines to stop calling on the area, at least for now.
The most important factor cruise lines should consider when deciding whether or not to call on a port is the risk to passenger safety. Passengers place trust in cruise lines that these vessels will take them to locales that are reasonably safe. Unfortunately, cruise lines make few guarantees about the safety of ports of call, and often use their passenger ticket contracts to ensure that their liability following passenger accidents and injury is limited at best.
The fact still remains that the situation in Tunisia has been serious for some time and travelers can’t necessarily rely on cruise lines to let them know what dangers they may face at a given port of call. The best way to assess your risk if you’re planning on cruising is to visit the U.S. State Department website and look for terrorist and crime warnings. Though cruise lines should be looking out for their passengers’ best interests, at the end of the day, cruisers need to take it upon themselves to ensure their own protection by doing a bit of research before settling upon a particular itinerary.