One of the first things every cruiser has to do is attend a life boat drill. They take attendance and if you don’t come, they track you down in your bed. Sometimes these used to take place after we set sail. but since the wreck of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, they must be held before sailing away. At these drills we used to have to wear our life jackets and stand outside near the lifeboat, sometimes in sweltering heat. Occasionally, someone fainted. More recently we’ve been sent to some A/C interior space to watch a video and listen to PA announcements. It leaves you with no clear ideal of where the lifeboats are or where to board them, but we are assured that someone will lead us to safety. The folks on Concordia thought that, too. On some ships the setting was so poor we couldn’t even see the video. It felt like lip service to this requirement.
But we’ve cruised so much, we’ve picked up some of the “crew only” lingo. So on a recent day at sea, when we heard a PA announcement for the crew about “code beta,” we knew there was a fire somewhere. When the PA was on we could hear sirens wailing in the background, but they weren’t on ship-wide. Rumors spread readily on a cruise ship at sea full of idle passengers, so it was smart of the cruise director to come back on the PA to explain that one of the garbage incinerators had gotten over enthusiastic, but the fire was quickly extinguished. A sigh of relief.
But the last few days we have had something new to worry about - the neighborhood. We've sailed in and out of the Straits of Hormuz without incident. 30% of the world’s oil moves through this choke point and it is in the news regularly. All day yesterday we sailed around the coast of Oman. Now we are about to pass some truly dangerous countries: Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Dijbouti, Sudan, and a choke point at the Strait of Aden before we enter the Red Sea. We knew this before we booked, unlike some of our fellow passengers who reacted with shock and dismay when we were directed to attended a drill in case we are boarded by pirates. We figured if the area was too dangerous, the cruise would be cancelled and were glad to hear what precautions we being taken just in case. In Oman we took on eight UK sharp shooters who will accompany us until we reach safer areas. Security look outs have been placed on the open decks both day and night. If we are approached by any small boats, they are probably curious fishermen, but the captain will take evasive action as a precaution. We are moving at almost top speed for the next few days to arrive in Aqaba on time and small boats would be unable to keep up with us. Most noticeable to us is the crime tape over all the exterior doors in the evening and blackout shades, decorative of course, that we’re never seen before in the dining room. The last time we sailed with crime tape holding the exterior doors shut was in high seas in Alaska, when they were afraid we would blow away if we went outside. Exterior lights are turned off so that we will be less noticeable from shore. We are supposed to keep our drapes pulled in our cabin at night. If we hear the words “safe haven” over the PA, we are supposed to stay away from any windows, lest bullets come whizzing through. Other cruise ships have preceded us though the area without incident and there’s no reason to think we won’t, too.