View From the Bridge - CDR MARK GAOUETTE

Commander Mark GaouetteCommander Mark Gaouette

Commander Mark Gaouette (USNR -Ret.) is a maritime security consultant to the Department of Homeland Security.

As the former Director of Security for Princess Cruises and Cunard Cruise Lines, he oversaw the implementation of the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Codes and the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) regulations on Princess cruise ships and port of calls worldwide.

He pioneered the deployment of the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRADs) on cruise ships to repel pirates.

Cruising for TroubleCdr. Gaouette is a former Special Agent of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DSS) and served as a Regional Security Officer (RSO) at five U.S. embassies including Moscow, Russia, Beirut, Lebanon and Sana'a, Yemen.

As a reserve naval intelligence officer, he served with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Cdr. Gaouette is the author of the book Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists, and Common Criminals published in March, 2010 by Praeger Publishing."

 Cruising for Trouble

by Cdr. Mark Gaouette (USNR-Ret.), author of “Cruising for Trouble”

The cruise industry has been on the defensive of late, shoring up its tarnished image after years of neglect. The bad news kept rolling in: murder mysteries at sea, pirate attacks, mysterious disappearances, nor-virus outbreaks, unattended deaths on ships linked to drugs and alcohol abuse, all caught up with them through front-page newspaper stories, scandalous late night talk shows and congressional testimony exposing the industry’s “dirty laundry.” This seemed to confirm in the public’s mind that anything goes on these ships after they weigh anchor and set sail.

Cruise ship executives have been forced to render public apologies and announce “sweeping reformations” to remedy the calamity. However, despite these attempts to make cruise ships safer, the cruise industry continues to justly, and unjustly receive criticism, and the risks to passengers and crew remain.

While new maritime security regulations such as the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Codes has made progress towards preventing terrorism and to curb stowaways and acts of piracy on the high seas, regulation and policy have not gone the lengths to address the confusing and very complicated international jurisdiction issues arising from crimes committed on cruise ships.

It is here that the cruise lines have conveniently been provided an alibi to escape scrutiny from any serious investigation for criminal activity committed on their ships. In short, because the oceans belong to no sovereign country other than the territorial waters claimed by a particular nation state, the lack of a recognized international security force on cruise ships fosters a general nature of lawlessness out on the open ocean.

In April, 2010, less than one month after my book, “Cruising for Trouble – Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists, and Common Criminals” was published, the Government Accountability Office known as the GAO, published a noteworthy study entitled, “Maritime Security – Varied Actions Taken to Enhance Cruise Ship Security, but Some Concerns Remain.” The GAO is the U.S. government’s watchdog and undertakes investigative studies to aide in decision making and policy formulation for the U.S. Congress. In this study, conducted for the Committee on Homeland Security, the GAO was asked to review cruise ship security and address to what extent, the U.S. Coast Guard, the lead federal agency on maritime security, assessed the risk to cruise ships in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) guidance, and to what extent other federal agencies, cruise ship operators and law enforcement entities have taken to protect the American sea going public while they are embarked on cruise ships operating in U.S. waters and ports. The report was for the most part, a validation, point for point, on the issues I discussed in Cruising for Trouble regarding the security threats the cruise industry are now, and have been operating under for the past two decades. While the U.S. government stated that its maritime intelligence agencies had not reported any credible threats against cruise ships in the previous 12 months (March 2008 – April 2009), it did state categorically that U.S. government law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the cruise line industry itself, noted the presence of terrorist groups and that they have the capability to attack cruise ships, a fact discussed in great detail in Cruising for Trouble.

The GAO’s report is significant to the subject of cruise ship security for two reasons. First, the report makes it clear that the study was conducted to document what the U.S. government, the cruise line industry and its stakeholders have done and is currently doing to protect itself specifically from terrorist attacks. What is glaringly apparent however in reading the GAO report is its failure to address the growing concern of internal safety and security issues inherent on a cruise ship such as the lack of an internationally recognized maritime security force trained to respond to crime and safety incidents. When sexual assaults, mysterious cruise ship disappearances and shore crime affect the safety of American passengers at an even more alarming rate than threats posed by pirates and terrorists, the lack of addressing internal safety and security issues by the GAO report is alarming when speaking exclusively to the subject of “cruise ship security.”

The first part of the decade saw an increase in cruise ship incidents and mysterious disappearances which naturally received the type of negative publicity that the cruise industry seeks to avoid. This negative publicity played out on cable news networks and in the halls of Congress in the form of Congressional inquiries into cruise line crime. In 2007, in an editorial by “Cruise Mates” editor Paul Motter, the editor responded to the negative publicity that the cruise lines were receiving. It was his opinion then, that the cruise lines were in fact, the ones being victimized in the media amid the growing mass of negative publicity being generated by such cases as the disappearance of George Allen Smith IV off Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas in 2005. In discussing cruise line crime, Motter makes a few salient points about cruise ship safety. Even as a professional cruise journalist he conceded, he would never recommended to anyone that they should go on a cruise ship alone. “I would never recommend that anybody take any extended vacation alone.” He said. “Traveling alone in foreign countries can be dangerous, especially for young, attractive women.” This is fairly sound advice. As a former Special Agent of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, I routinely briefed U.S. government travelers headed for overseas destinations, to be vigilant and cautious, especially when traveling to high crime-rated countries. However, in the same discussion, Motter makes an outlandish claim regarding the nature of becoming a cruise ship victim: “Many of the people who end up as self-described ‘cruise victims’ sailed on shorter, budget cruises of three to four days. It appears that they either drank much more than they should have, at least while on the ship, or they put themselves in the company of such people and were subsequently taken advantage of.” This statement seems incredible if we are to believe that that if you: 1) can only afford one of these so-called “bargain, three-day cruises,” you are more likely to end up a cruise victim because you engaged in excessive drinking, (which is the central theme on all cruise ship activities), or that 2), you surrounded yourself with people who were more than likely to take advantage of you when you engaged in excessive drinking. Is Motter suggesting that economy cruises and the passengers who book them may be prone to sexual assault, violence or public disorder? I think he puts this in perspective when he states that, “Personally, the majority of cruises I have taken have been longer cruises (seven days or many more). At least half of my cruises have been on what are called ‘premium’ or even ‘luxury’ cruise lines.”

The message seems clear from such a cruise line “insider” that crime, or the chance that a crime will occur on a cruise ship in not undeniable, especially if you can not afford a “premium” cruise as in the case of Motter’s cruise experiences. Considering that the majority of cruise vacations do not fall into this category, one has to wonder, is there any difference in taking a three or four-day cruise as opposed to embarking on a seven day cruise, and does it make a difference, in which cruise line you embark on? If we were talking about an airline flight, the answer would be absolutely not in the least. All airline security standards and safety practices are equally observed whether you fly the economy lines, or whether you can afford the more premium lines such as Virgin Atlantic Airlines. But since we are talking about a cruise ship, the answer would be absolutely “yes.” With regards to cruise ship crime, it absolutely does matter as Motter suggests, on what cruise line you embark on, for how many days, and even where that ship is going.

A second important point to consider about the GAO report is that it is exclusively focused on the security of cruise ships operating in U.S. territorial waters. When one recognizes that cruise ships traditionally operate in foreign waters and that cruise lines take their fleets of ships to foreign ports of call, the following finding in the GAO study should give passengers and crew, as well as cruise line security planners, a reason to be concerned. “According to an official of the Cruise Lines International Association, of the cruise lines included in our (GAO) site visits, only one had a vessel registered in the United States. Hence, although they carry large numbers of U.S. passengers, the vast majority of cruise-line operated vessels generally come under U.S. authority only when they enter waters over which the United States has jurisdiction” (emphasis added).

The implications of this fact is obvious; at the very least cruise ships are a greater risk from terrorists and pirates when operating outside of the territorial waters of the United States and at worst, the United States government and its vast law enforcement resources and even its military have limited or no jurisdictional authority or mandate to protect cruise ships on the high seas. Even if “no credible threats” had been received by U.S. intelligence agencies, it is safe to assume that cruise ships as the government report makes clear, remain highly attractive targets to terrorists representing high prestige and symbolic targets to well known international terrorists groups such as al-Qaeda.

Maritime security is perceived in recent years to have been boosted through the implementation in July 2004 of the International ship and Port Security (ISPS) Codes. Most of these security efforts are aimed at preventing terrorists from gaining access to ports and/or ships and inserting weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into the maritime domain. Far from port however, cruise ships on the high seas face peril from new pirate tactics that mimic terrorist attacks and from terrorists who seek to take advantage of maritime “soft targets.” In “Cruising for Trouble,” I examined these risks as well as the inherent risks to cruise-ship passengers onboard the new “mega” cruise ships coming into service in the last decade. These risks include those assumed by the ship and its passengers when visiting foreign ports. My experience as the Director of Security for Princess Cruises was used as a basis for evaluating cruise ship security. In Cruising for Trouble, I was critical of the security preparations of the cruise industry on many levels.

The industry has experienced a remarkable expansion of its fleets with the addition of ultra-large luxury liners that cater to every pocketbook and vacation experience. Cruise ships continue to grow in size and develop new marketing strategies to tap into the huge North American market where according to the cruise line’s own statistics; only 17 percent of the U.S. population has ever taken a cruise. The cruise industry has recovered relatively quickly from two wars in the Middle East, a SARS epidemic, a devastating tsunami, several cruise ship fires, collisions and sinking’s and even (at last count), three pirate attacks. These and other cruise ship stories can be found detailed in Cruising for Trouble. The industry however has also been a victim of its own phenomenal growth. Cruise ship incidents involving mysterious passenger disappearances, (man-overboard), underage drinking, drug use and drug smuggling as well as sexual and physical assaults have continued to occur at an alarming pace. It is only natural to assume that such incidents would follow when increased passenger loads on cruise ships in previous years averaged 2,000 passengers but is now averaging 3,500 with even bigger ships coming online. Passenger loads on the new Royal Caribbean ship “Oasis of the Seas” for example launched in November, 2009, approach nearly 6,500 (excluding crew).

Notwithstanding the phenomenal potential for safety and criminal incidents occurring during passenger excursions ashore, the reasons for such security occurrences onboard cruise ships is easily understandable. Cruise lines hire personnel to act as “security” on their ships and provide no real law enforcement response to the sexual assaults, bar-room brawls or thefts of personal property. Worse, there is no international standard for the prevention of crime onboard ships or for professionally investigating crimes committed at sea. The disappearance of George Allen Smith IV off Royal Caribbean’s the Brilliance of the Sea in the Aegean Sea in July 2005 is a perfect example. The criticism of the FBI to fully investigate the crime and the professionalism of the Turkish investigation as well as the actions of the ship all combined to present a questionable and haphazard response to the loss of a man’s life at sea which went so far as to hint at a cruise-line cover-up. The attitudes of the cruise line executives who run these fleets are no less encouraging to the prospective cruise ship passenger. The former CEO of Carnival Cruise Line who referred to the disappearance of George Smith as a “non-event” seems to trivialize such occurrences and does not seem to be in sync with the safety of lives at sea.

In June 2010, the passage of the 2009 Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D- MA) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) with collaboration between the International Cruise Victims Organization ( and the Cruise Lines International Association ( brings some needed reforms to the cruise industry with regards to passenger safety, however further international efforts will be needed to make cruising a truly safe environment for all passengers and crew wherever cruise ships set sail. Currently, the U.S. law does not apply to cruise ships operating outside of U.S. jurisdiction. Efforts underway by the International Cruise Victim’s Organization in Europe seek to make similar security standards and regulation applicable to cruise ships operating in Europe and Australia. Real progress in reforming the current cruise ship security model however will only be addressed when the international maritime community adopts the standard for placing recognized law enforcement officials on cruise ships. This is an idea that the cruise lines will vehemently oppose. With the sea-going public’s safety in the balance on these new mega-cruise ships, and as mysterious disappearances and sexual assaults continue to increase; this standard will ultimately become a reality. The alternative is that the cruise industry’s burgeoning fleets of mega-cruise ships will in turn, become ghost ships.

International Cruise Victims Association

If you are a victim of crime ona cruise ship and would like more information about the International Cruise Victims Association, please visit their web site at:


• Naomi Kabak
Senior Vice President
Group IST

• Guy A Young
President & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

• Larry Pimentel
President & CEO of Azamara Club Cruises

• Cdr Mark Gaouette
Maritime Security Consultant
Department of Homeland Security

• Rick Sasso
President and CEO
MSC Cruises

• Diane Moore
Windstar Cruises

• Paul Strachan
Pandaw River Cruises

• James Rodriguez
Senior Vice President, Marketing
Oceania Cruises

• Colin Stone
Managing Director
Swan Hellenic

• Mike Deegan
Managing Director
Hebridean Island Cruises

• Derek Banks
European Waterways Ltd

• Ken Carver
International Cruise Victims Association (ICV)

• Terry Dale
President and CEO
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

• Lawrence Dessler
Executive Director
Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance (NCMA)

• Ross A Klein

• Bob Levinstein
Cruise Compete

• Alan Lewis
Grand Circle Corporation & Grand Circle Cruise Lines

• Albert Peter
Chief Executive Officer
Silversea Cruises

• Dietmar R Wertanzl
President and Chief Executive Officer
Cruise West