Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has issued a brief press statement “to clarify the situation regrading its vessel Balmoral’s recent transit of the Gulf of Aden.”
Fred. Olsen stated that at no time was the vessel “under attack” and there were no visual sightings of pirates.
During the daytime sailing through the Gulf of Aden on March 3, only fishing boats were sighted showing no signs of hostile intentions, according to the statement. However, at 19:45 that evening, two suspicious craft were observed on the radar traveling toward the ship. The master took what the cruise line called aggressive maneuvering, contacted the EU coalition force, and passengers were requested to assemble in safe havens. An hour later, an EU warship confirmed that the area around the Balmoral was clear and the alert was called off.
This was “a suspicious incident and not an attack,” according to the Fred. Olsen statement.
During the incident searchlights were directed at the approaching craft and flares were used to indicate that it had been observed. It is possible that this was interpreted as gunfire, Fred. Olsen stated, but categorically denied that there was any gunfire. The suspicious vessel approached within 400 meters of the Balmoral before leaving the area. Because of the darkness it was impossible to identify the vessel, Fred. Olsen said.
The Balmoral is continuing on her cruise and is today in the port of Salalah in Oman.
Fred. Olsen’s statement is in sharp contrast to media reports citing terrified passengers, and a crew member who reportedly said she saw men in a fishing boat armed with AK47s and rocket launchers. She also said that she could hear shooting and that the pirate boat was following the Balmoral. She said the incident started Tuesday morning, according to British press reports.
Military sources quoted by British press said the incident was a false alarm.
Cruise ships grabbed headlines when a Seabourn vessel was attacked a couple of years ago, but managed to escape allegedly because of a sonic boom device. A Ponant vessel was captured last year, with crew only onboard and later released. And more recently an Oceania vessel was approached by pirates, but got away.
The question is, with the track record of these incidents and many others in the region, including captures of ships and crew, why are the cruise ships sailing anywhere this hot spot?