Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sea Day and Pirate Drill Info

You know when it’s nine in the morning and 80 degrees with 85 percent humidity it’s going to be a hot one. I spent my swimming and sunning time at the pool but couldn’t last all day. With the steamy heat and my sunscreen bottle running low and me not wanting to have to ration it like I am Internet minutes, I didn’t stay in a lounger all that long. Even my swimming time was cut short. After yesterday’s swimming lap-o-rama, my shoulder hurt all night long. (It’s that same shoulder I’ve already had repaired once and the one I re-injured on the Crown Princess during our transatlantic voyage last year.)

Less swimming + less sunning = more time to get my thoughts together about the pirate drill experience.

As I mentioned during the Suez Canal portion of our voyage, when I was researching what to expect on a cruise ship during the transit, I found all kinds of conflicting information. In most of the cases I read about, the time in the Suez Canal sounded like a dire and pretty scary experience. I’ve traveled enough to know both cruise passengers and the news media exaggerate and dramatize certain things around cruising so I took what I read with a grain of salt.

First of all, the information I read online stated it was in regards to safety procedures during the Suez Canal transit. But it isn’t the Suez Canal requiring additional safety procedures – it’s the waterways before the Suez Canal if you’re traveling northbound or after the Suez Canal if you’re heading southbound. There is a High Risk Area in the waters near and around the Horn of Africa and where the Strait of Hormuz meets the Persian Gulf. These High Risk Area boundaries change depending on incidents in the area. The Suez Canal isn’t even close to the HRA.

But I did find there was some truth – but not all truth – in what I read in regards to anti-piracy procedures.

The Suez Canal is one way so it took forever for the Canal to open. Ship had to leave in the cover of night to stealthily avoid the pirates. 
Again, none of the anti-piracy procedures had to do with the Suez Canal. But yes, the Suez Canal used to be only one way. Now there are two Canals running alongside each other with some areas where they converge. Sometimes ships would be hanging out in those areas waiting for the area to clear before moving on. We did leave in the dark, but we had a convoy of 22 ships heading southbound and another convoy heading northbound so an early morning entry into the Canal was needed to get all of us through in both directions.

The ship is locked down and goes dark, with no one allowed outside or on the open decks during the day or night. All curtains had to be closed and no lights allowed at night and passengers were pretty much confined to their cabins. For several days, actually. 
This may have happened, but it is not the usual procedure. These types of security measures are followed if there is a recent incident, like the time when a Chinese cargo ship was fired upon in the Sinai Peninsula and a cruise ship was in the same waters not long after. These precautions are taken for the safety and security of passengers and crew, and if the situation requires passengers stay from open decks, they will be closed off. Again, this type of lock down is not typical.

Forced to endure pirate drills and passengers required to huddle in the hallways. 
We did have a required pirate drill. (It was also called an anti-piracy drill.) On our ship we weren’t required to huddle in the hallways, but we were required to return to our cabins in order to be accounted for. (The stewards did the checking.) We were also required to shut and lock balcony doors and close all curtains.

Ships use several methods to ward off pirate attacks, with one being high speed. Our ship was at maximum speed as we traversed the High Risk Areas. Another method is maneuvering. These are a couple of the reasons we were required to be in our cabin for the first part of the pirate drill. The Captain told us that in case of a real pirate attack, the ship would be using its maneuvering capabilities at a high speed and the ship would be listing heavily. We would need to be away from the open decks and open areas of the ship. During the listing the safest place would be sitting on the floor of our cabin. A bit scary to think about.

As part of the drill, with passengers instructed to their cabins, crew were called to Deck 4 with a code. They were to behave as if pirates were boarding the vessel. Crew were then called to another area on Deck 4 for a simulated fire from the pirate attack. The ship even used synthetic smoke to give the crew a more authentic drill. Passengers were then supposed to be called to their muster stations as you would if the ship were on fire, but the synthetic smoke got a bit out of hand and wafted into one of the muster stations. We had to wait until the smoke cleared before the alarm sounded.

Call us ever-so-thankful we had a cabin on Deck 8 by the back stairway so we only had one flight of stairs for E to make his way down. It has made us rethink our cabin locations for future cruises. Typically on muster drill day we go early so we can take the elevators but we couldn’t do it for the pirate drill. If we had a real-life emergency where going to a muster station was required, walking down from a higher deck cabin wouldn’t work for E.

Then here’s where it got weird in the muster station – we had to listen to the regular muster station chipper presentation from day one. During a Pirate Drill. The hello everyone and the even though you’d look stunning in a life jacket and the spread joy, not germs one. The whole dang thing. Not only were they using this time in the muster station for a pirate drill, but they were using it to count as the muster drill for those folks who had been on since Southampton. (Those from Southampton were on a 38 day cruise and you have to muster every 30 days.) The stupid muster drill song in a Pirate Drill just didn’t work. All in all, from the time crew were first called to Deck 4 to the time we were dismissed from the muster station was about an hour.

Heavily armed guards onboard with water cannons set up on the open decks in case of attack.
We didn’t have armed guards onboard for our voyage. However, we did have additional eyes on the water. There was a high level of surveillance on the Bridge and around ship, especially at night. Because of the need for maximum night vision for those on watch, lights were dimmed on the Promenade Deck from 10pm to 6am. Therefore the deck was closed during those times.

Those on watch were looking for some typical telltale signs to identify pirates. Skiffs are towed behind motherships which can be spotted on radar miles away. Two skiffs travel together when targeting ships and can look like normal fishing boats from afar but once binoculars are used the difference can be detected. The skiffs carry grappling hooks, increased fuel, and no fishing gear. The pirates may also be in possession of AK-47s.

Our ship also had prerigged hoses along the Promenade deck. We saw these hoses hanging down all along the deck. They have a nozzle on one end, with the other end of the hose attached to the water supply across the deck. When in use these hoses will create a water wall, if needed.

We were also informed we would see an increased military presence during our time in the High Risk Area. If there had been recent issues in the area we would have been escorted through the area and may have had additional security personnel onboard. (All was good for us.) Shipping lanes were also more narrow than usual so we would see an increasing number of container ships closer to our ship.

It was a bit scary to think about what could have happened. I do have to mention this – on this voyage we knew what we were getting into. We also knew what kinds of safety issues could arise from being closer to Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Syria and the Persian Gulf than most of us have ever been before. But not once have I heard anyone say they didn’t want to be here or weren’t getting off the ship in port because they feared for their safety. But over the last 10 years on our cruises to Mexico? I heard it on a daily basis.

We have another sea day tomorrow and yet another time change tonight. This time we are doing 30 minutes forward. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I'm starting to think I’ve been pretty clueless on the ways of the world. You can bet I’ll be relying on the ship clocks, not my cell phone, to figure out the real time!