Sea Princess round the world cruise passengers told to prepare for pirate attack

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Carolyne Jasinski was on a cruise ship bound for Europe when she was told to prepare for a pirate attack. Picture: Supplied

When 1900 passengers set sail from Sydney on a world cruise, they had no idea for 10 of their 104 days at sea, there would be a dusk-til-dawn ban on any fun on deck.

No deck parties, no movies under the stars, no late-night outdoor bar hopping or pool dipping.

No lights, no party atmosphere, no lapping up tropical breezes on their balconies.

All around the ship, as the sun set, all curtains were drawn and all shutters closed.

Bright lights, which normally signal the presence of the Sea Princess on the ocean, were dimmed or turned off altogether.

She was a ghost ship.

What on earth was going on?

Nervous speculation spread faster than a norovirus among passengers.

One quipped: “Are we expecting an invasion of vampires? Maybe they’re filming the next episode of From Dusk Til Dawn?”

Then the mood darkened and terrorist rumours began.

Have they uncovered a plot to blow up the ship?

The answer was not quite so sinister — but it was serious.

Captain Gennaro Arma addressed the ship. He apologised for alarming passengers. However, the threat, he said, was real and the ship must be prepared for a pirate attack.

Carolyne Jasinski took a round-the-world trip with Princess Cruises. Picture: Supplied

Carolyne Jasinski took a round-the-world trip with Princess Cruises. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

We were on the first leg of a world cruise from Sydney to Dubai. We stopped at Melbourne and Fremantle before heading to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, and then Dubai.

For 10 days we travelled through an area where the risk of piracy is higher — the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.

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Now I knew why they had been playing a documentary on our cabin TVs about piracy on the high seas. They were getting us ready for what was to come; gently reminding us that piracy is still a problem.

In fact, it’s a growing problem, even though it doesn’t hit the headlines nearly as much lately.

Suddenly, all the snippets of information from the program come flooding in.

• The worst area known for piracy is off the coast of Somalia — what they call a failed state — one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world with no government or infrastructure.

• Pirates operate from small skiffs. They are armed with guns and ladders to board ships. Their boats are small but fast and hide behind bigger ships.

• If captured, cargo and crew are taken back to Somalia waters and are often held to ransom. Torture of crew is common.

• Generally ships are kept for 4-6 months, but one ship was kept for 12 months.

Passengers feared an attack like in the movie 
<i>Captain Phillips</i>. Picture: Jason Boland/Columbia Pictures

Passengers feared an attack like in the movie
Captain Phillips. Picture: Jason Boland/Columbia Pictures
Source:AP

This was really serious — and now the night-time ban on outdoor entertainment did not seem like such a hardship.

The captain announced that as well as the dusk-til-dawn blockout, as part of the preparations, we would have a compulsory pirate drill.

No, we were not dressing up for yet another cruise ship theme night.

This was the real thing.

We had to know what to do in case pirates attack. We had to be prepared for evasive action.

Passengers nervously quipped that they knew what to do.

They’d seen the movie Captain Phillips.

But, despite a happy ending for the captain in that movie, the whole process did not pan out so well for everyone on board the ship.

It was made very clear on the Sea Princess, very quickly, that this pirate threat was not something to be joked about.

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Any remaining smirks soon disappeared as the pirate drill alarm sounded and the crew was instructed to move to their designated muster stations.

Passengers were sent back to their cabins so they could be counted.

For the purpose of the drill, they needed only to remain there and be crossed off a list by their stateroom attendants.

They were advised to sit on the floor and to hang on to hand rails in case the ship had to manoeuvre away from pirate ships.

In the case of a real threat, those passengers in outside cabins were told to close and lock their balcony doors, then lock their entrance door to their cabin and take shelter in the corridors.

That put two metal doors between passengers and pirates.

The Gulf of Aden is a danger point for cruise ships on their way to Europe. Picture: Google Maps

The Gulf of Aden is a danger point for cruise ships on their way to Europe. Picture: Google MapsSource:Supplied

As a guest speaker on board the ship, I was given the title of supernumerary. It meant I was a pseudo-crew member, and when it came to the drill, I was there to help.

It was exciting … in a terrifying way.

I had to go to my muster station and be ready for action!

Maybe the pirates needed a lecture on how to write a story about their antics.

I am being flippant, but the threat and the action to be taken was real.

The captain said we could outrun any pirate ships but just in case, officers were on watch 24/7 and fire hoses were at the ready on Deck Seven. This is where we normally took our daily stroll, and it’s the obvious place for pirates to board the ship.

If the high-pressure spray didn’t stop wannabe intruders, the detergent solution should. No entry here for those slippery little suckers.

If all else failed, there was the sonic boom — we were told it can knock pirates off their feet (or ladders if they get too close).

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The drill went off with only a few hitches.

The crew did everything right, but the captain was not happy that three cabins decided to “not take part” in the drill, so he shamed them over the radio.

Rumour had it that the passengers did not want to abandon their game of bridge.

Passengers were allowed to return to the deck during daylight hours. Picture: Supplied

Passengers were allowed to return to the deck during daylight hours. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

The lack of headlines around the world is enough to show that, on this occasion, pirates were kept at bay.

It was all smooth sailing, so to speak, on the Sea Princess.

But it definitely changed the mood on the ship.

For the 10-day blackout, there was a weird kind of excitement. Once aware of and alerted to the prospect of pirates, we watched vessels more carefully.

A fishing boat was not looked at the same way. It was no longer an interesting speck on the horizon. We wondered what they were doing so far out at sea and whether there was something hiding behind it.

The new-found interest from passengers drove the captain nuts.

Many calls were made to the bridge to report suspicious boats.

He had to ask passengers to stop calling and to trust in the officers who were on watch.

Surprisingly there were very few complaints about our dusk-til-dawn limits.

Passengers took it all in their stride — taken during daylight hours, anywhere but Deck Seven.

Carolyne Jasinski is a media specialist. Check out her writing here.

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