BY JAY CLARKE | The Miami Herald
February 12, 2006
If you use your head, you couldn’t be any place safer
Although the overwhelming number of passengers never experience any problems on their cruises, still, problems do occur.
Though it generates huge publicity when it occurs, falling overboard is a very rare event. And even more common cruise passenger ailments and mishaps occur far less frequently than on shore.
The overwhelming number of passengers never experience any problems on their cruises, other than perhaps losing more money than they’d hoped in the casino. “Cruising is one of the safest forms of transportation,” declares Michael Crye, president of the Cruise Line Industry Association.
Still, problems do occur.
In recent years, onboard outbreaks of norovirus — stomach flu — have made headlines. Accidents happen: Passengers fall and break an arm or a leg, some have been injured or killed during shore excursions. Assaults and rapes on board recently have been in the news. Thefts of money or goods from passengers do occur.
Statistically, such occurrences are small compared to the number of cruise passengers. In testimony before Congress last December, ICCL’s Crye said that while one in every 1,000 persons is raped or sexually assaulted each year on shore, cruise ships record only one assault per 100,000 passengers.
“According to the FBI, there were 1.4 million offenses of violent crime in 2004 — a national rate of 465.5 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants,” according to Crye. That compares with just one crime per 200,000 passengers on cruise ships, he testified.
Some safety advocates and lawyers dispute industry figures. Charles R. Lipcon, a Miami attorney who specializes in maritime injury cases, for instance, says the assault statistics noted by Crye don’t square with other reports.
“The head of security for a cruise line said [in a deposition] that the line reports two sexual assaults per month per ship,” said Lipcon.
Whatever the numbers, passengers can minimize risks with common-sense precautions. Here are some of the problems that may confront cruise passengers, together with tips on minimizing their frequency and effects.
Norovirus (stomach flu) occurs everywhere — on shore as on cruise ships. “In a contained space [as on a cruise ship], a bug can be passed around,” warned Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJet, a global travel risk management company.
Best preventative: Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, said Stefan Christofferson, director of special projects for Carnival Cruise Lines.
For seasickness, bring your own medication or have it prescribed by the ship’s doctor.
More serious illnesses, such as heart attacks or strokes, may require medical evacuation to a shoreside hospital.
If there’s a knock on your cabin door, ask who it is before opening, McIndoe advises. If it’s a crew member, call the purser’s office before admitting him.
And, say fellow cruisers, passengers should not visit crew cabins or wander alone late at night. “There’s not enough live security on ship, especially at night…corridors are too deserted,” wrote online user “packed&ready” in a recent CruiseCritic.com poll on cruise ship safety.
McIndoe’s advice: “Women should go around with a partner or another woman, or ask a crew member to escort them back to their cabin.”
Onboard: “In rough weather,” noted McIndoe, “people walk, drink and fall. It’s prudent to settle down and ride it out.” Ship doctors can care for most injuries; cruise ships meet or exceed guidelines set by the American College of Emergency Physicians, said Crye. Ship doctors can perform emergency surgery, he said, but in serious cases the general practice is to stabilize patients and then evacuate them to shore.
Shore excursions: Fatalities have occurred on rafting and diving trips, helicopter flights, bus and van transportation. In some cases, these may be the fault of inadequately prepared or equipped tour operators.
“I highly recommend ship tours,” said Christofferson. The cruise lines “check out tour operators, and the cruise lines stand behind them.” You are least protected, said Crye, when you go into town, rent a car or taxi and go off on an excursion of your own.
“Cruise ships are essentially a honey pot for scam artists,” says McIndoe. Passengers need to realize that when they go ashore in a foreign country, they are not in the United States.
“They don’t have U.S. government rules, there’s no oversight, no regulation. Be very cautious,” he said. Know that if you get into trouble on board or in a port, you may be held accountable under a foreign country’s laws, not those of the U.S.
Most complaints regarding theft involve the contents of luggage. Carry important items like medication and expensive jewelry in your hand luggage. Don’t leave valuables lying around in your cabin.
Advises McIndoe: “You really do need to leave things in your safe, or if they are really valuable, put them in the purser’s safe.”
Another word to the wise: Many safes open with a magnetic card. Do not use your ship ID card for that purpose; use a credit card.
Set curfew and restrictions just like at home, advises security consultant Chris E. McGoey in an article on crime doctor.com. “Teenagers especially should be told never to accompany crew members into nonpublic areas,” he writes. Also, “Giving them the run of the ship while you spend hours in the casino or show is asking for trouble.”
No one plans on getting sick or injured, but it happens. Get travel insurance, Crye advises. “Medical evacuation is very expensive.”
Insurance also compensates you in cases of travel delays or cancellations.
You can buy it through your cruise line or from an independent company (try www.insuremytrip.com or www.quotetravelinsurancecom to compare policies.)