Experts Say Cruise Ships Are Vulnerable

Despite criticism following incident near Africa, cruise lines defend security plans


But Petersen, the security consultant, doubted that was the case. Pirates, he said, would have tried to disable the ship's steering and propulsion if they were trying to board. Witnesses, however, said the attackers shot grenades at the passengers.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday that the attackers might have been terrorists.

Either way, cruise lines fear that their image as safe havens of fun could be tarnished. After the Achille Lauro hijacking, the eastern Mediterranean cruise market had a sharp decline in traffic. The Sept. 11 attacks forced cruise companies to offer heavy discounts to lure leery passengers onto ships, and ticket prices are only now getting back to pre-attack levels as the industry is having a year of record profits and traffic.

Because no one was killed in the Spirit attack, travelers probably won't be spooked, said Jeff Sharlach, chairman and CEO of The Jeffrey Group, a public relations firm that runs crisis management teams for companies like FedEx Corp.

"You want to avoid making it into a bigger news story than it is naturally. Sometimes if you respond too aggressively, you make it more frightening than it is," said Sharlach, whose company doesn't work with cruise lines.

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On the Net:

International Council of Cruise Lines: http://www.iccl.org

Carnival Corp.: http://www.carnivalcorp.com

Seabourn Cruise Line: http://www.seabourn.com

<<Associated Press WorldStream -- 11/09/05>>