Following the recent hijackings of airplanes and a cruise ship in the eastern Mediterranean, the cruise lines operating in the area have been affected in several ways.
So far, at least two lines have cancelled sailings in the region; several have admitted to heavy losses; and others are offering strong incentives to lure passengers back next summer. In addition, government legislation on ship/cruise security may result.
While security on cruise ships has always been considered fairly tight, most lines are now reviewing their systems to determine possible weak points. And although most claim to have beefed up security, concrete measures have not been announced, nor are they evident.
Alex Keusseoglou, vice president of Sun Line Cruises, said, "You can't publicize them, otherwise the measures will be useless."
Effects seen on Mediterranean cruises
Royal Viking Line has announced that its 1986 Mediterranean/Holy Land itineraries have been cancelled, and replaced almost exclusively by European ports in the Mediterranean. This marks the second major cruise line to take such a stand, after Sea Goddess Cruises' recent decision to cancel its 1986 Egypt and Israel itineraries.
"Although we feel the region is more secure than ever for cruise ships, Americans have gotten the perception that the area is unsafe," said a spokesman at RVL. Bookings for next summer are down, and although we do not believe cruises there are a safety risk, they do represent a substantial marketing risk," he added. (According to sources, it was estimated that RVL lost about $7 million as a result of the hijacking.)
To date, no other cruise lines have announced itinerary changes due to the unrest in the eastern Mediterranean. Royal Cruise Line, Sun Line, Epirotiki, Costa, and K-Lines, all claim to be continuing their 1986 Mediterranean itineraries as usual, including Egypt and Holy Land cruises. One industry source, however, claims that all the lines operating in the eastern Mediterranean may be forced to pull out of the region next summer , and that announcements to that effect will follow shortly.
According to Chandris Cruises' executive director Harry A. Haralambopoulos, Chandris will probably not market the Italian-owned and operated Achille Lauro next year, but will continue to market its other Mediterranean vessel, the 600-pax Romanza. However, when asked about next year s Mediterranean itineraries, another Chandris spokesman replied, no changes have yet been announced."
Whether or not the lines do decide to cancel their Egypt/Holy Land sailings, several are presently offering valuable incentives for next year's Mediterranean cruises, to stimulate low bookings.
Sun Line (which suffered 3,000 cancellations during the July to October period, according to Keusseoglou), has announced that it will offer free shore excursion packages with all Mediterranean and Aegean cruises next year; K-Lines is maintaining '85 rates; and RCL, too, is offering '85 fares on bookings before Dec. 15, 1985, on all Mediterranean itineraries.
Reactions to questions of cruise ship security are mixed, and rumors abound. (One editor from a major U.S. newspaper called CIN for a comment on the "major cruise line that went out of business as a result of the hijacking... ")
In the wake of the Achille Lauro hijacking, lawsuits are beginning to flourish.
Marilyn Klinghoffer, widow of the American who was killed aboard the ship, has filed a $1.5 billion suit against the Palestine Liberation Organization. She also filed for an undetermined amount against Achille Lauro Lines, Chandris Cruises and ABC Tours Travel Club of Union, New Jersey.
Two other passengers aboard the ship have previously filed a $400 million claim against the tour operator and cruise line.
Legislative Attention Focused on Security
According to Norwegian Caribbean Line's Art Kane, chairman of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association's (FCCA) legislative committee, the cruise industry would prefer that Congress leave the security issue alone, claiming that the Achille Lauro hijacking was an isolated and accidental incident.
This reaction was in response to a recent bill (H.R. 3734) introduced by Rep. Dennis Hertel (D-Mich.), member of the House Merchant Marine subcommittee, to introduce legislation designed to heighten ship security. The bill would require the installation of screening equipment similar to that used by airlines to screen passengers, baggage and other persons having access to ships arriving at or departing from U.S. ports.
More recently, Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have introduced a bill calling for the establishment of worldwide port and passenger/cruise ship security standards. According to sources, the regulations would be developed by an international conference and would be mandatory for all nations in accord. This bill, too, would require screening of baggage; restricted access to ships and port areas; and international sanctions against terrorists who hijack ships. Costs of such measures would be shared by the cruise lines, port authorities, and participating governments.
Keusseoglou recently stated that lines are contemplating a universal no-visitors-aboard policy, but claimed that metal detectors at ports involve legal problems, and are costly to implement. He said, "I hope people will forget (the Achille Lauro hijacking), because I believe it was an exceptional incident and will not happen again."
A spokesman for K-Lines, too, voiced his desire to minimize reaction to the security issue, citing that the region "does not need further negative press."
To explore what security measures are being taken at U.S. ports, chairman of the House subcommittee, Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.) held meetings last week at Florida's Port of Miami and Port Everglades with cruise lines, port authorities, and the Coast Guard. While the meetings were closed to the public, a subcommittee source said they were "very satisfied with the progress being made in the area of security," and that various pilot programs were underway to arrive at solutions to security problems.
In the world arena, the U.S. is working through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to draft recommended or mandatory security standards for ports and cruise lines. The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has also called for regulations to prevent future hijackings. The federation, which represents 4.5 million workers, has suggested measures similar to those used by the air lines.