Gulf of Aden Cruises: Are they Safe?

The Gulf of Aden forms a natural sea link between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. This deepwater basin is located between the coasts of Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Thanks to the gulf’s rich marine life, the coastline supports many remote fishing towns and villages. The natives fish near the shore for sardines, tuna, kingfish, and mackerel. While these are the most popular catches near the shore, crayfish and sharks are also fished locally.

Fishing has made the coast and the gulf popular for natives and commercial fishing boats, but other types of marine life have made the Gulf of Aden popular for expedition cruise ships and other vessels. It is not uncommon to catch a glimpse of a majestic whale while sailing the gulf. Sea turtles and rock lobster are also plentiful.

Cruising the Gulf of Aden can be an amazing experience, but for cruisers on several recent pleasure cruises, the experience became dangerous. The Gulf of Aden is known as a Somali Pirate Zone. Many governments, such as the German government, have refused to accept requests for security escorts through the zone. Unfortunately, the quickest way to get to the Suez Canal, which offers access to the East Coast of Africa and Indian Ocean is trough the zone. Without it, ships would have to sail around the entire continent of Africa to make it to the same destinations.

Not all ships passing through the Somali Pirate Zone will be targeted, but the ones that become a target are typically overwhelmed quickly. More than 50 ships pass through the zone daily. To date, pirates have hit 32 vessels and hijacked 12. One of the latest ships to be targeted was Fred Olsen’s Balmoral where 1,000 Britons were onboard. The incident took place when two small speed boats races towards the ship. The ship evaded the attack with aggressive maneuvering tactics and help from the EU Coalition Task Force.

One cruise ship, Oceania Nautica of Oceania Cruises came dangerously close to being attacked on November 30, 2009 when pirates raced towards the vessel and fired shots. Warning shots were fired at Somali pirates just two days earlier after they raced towards Transocean Tours’ Astor. More than 400 passengers were onboard as many witnessed a German naval ship fire shots at the pirates.

Although pirates have been less successful at overwhelming cruise ships than slower cargo vessels such as oil tankers, many cruise lines have decided to alter their itineraries in order to avoid the danger zone. Star Clippers, Fred Olsen, Hapag-Llyoyd, MSC Cruises, Peter Deilmann, Plantours & Partner, and Seabourn have either altered or cancelled Africa and Indian Ocean itineraries.

Royal Caribbean, Cunard, and Regent Seven Seas still reposition between Europe, the Middle East and Asia each year by passing through the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia. P & O Cruises and Azamara also still sail through the zone. The only alternative is to sail around the southern tip of Africa. This can add several weeks to the sailing.

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