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Pirates of the Middle East.....in 2017

 
Let's get right to it. In the last several days, I've come across FOUR versions of an article in which a passenger named Carolyne Jasinski tells a greatly exaggerated tale of sailing through the Gulf of Aden and pirates. Maybe greatly exaggerated is an understatement. Few things in life irritate me more than the dissemination of false information as it relates to travel. And going out of your way to spread lies and hysteria and fear will most definitely invoke a response from me. If you're interested in reading this work of fiction, you can find one version of the article HERE.

Some quick background on myself: I was fortunate enough to spend most of the first four months of 2017 aboard the Norwegian Star, getting on in Hong Kong in January, disembarking in Sydney, and then returning for the Dubai to Venice leg, finishing in mid-April. If I sound familiar, then there's a good chance that you may recognize me from one of the hundreds of news articles published after the NCL Star was damaged, eventually losing both azipods and spending time adrift in the ocean.  Let's just say that it's been an interesting year to be me.


After surviving the Bahrain-Dubai disaster of 2017 (more on that next-I promise!), we just barely made it to Dubai to get back on board. I was sitting out on the deck as we cast off from port, on a Facetime call with one of my best friends in NYC. As we were chatting, the captain came over the loud speaker to greet us, and to inform us about an upcoming additional drill-a "highjacking" drill in the event that we came across any pirates. My friend asked "Did he just say...pirates?" I need to call you back....

I quickly opened up the map on my iPhone to look at the route that we would be sailing. I like to think that I'm pretty good with geography, having done so much traveling. What I didn't realize until that moment was how far north Somolia extended.

We were on the trip of a lifetime. There was no way that we were getting off the cruise because of this potential threat. Cruise lines sailing the area have emergency plans in place. They have additional training and resources in place. It was a touch nerve racking in the beginning because who could imagine potentially coming across pirates, in 2017, on a cruise ship?

As promised, further information was delivered to us in the form of a letter in our stateroom, which you can read below. The letter called for four nights of minor restrictions, and when all was said and done, it turned out to only be three as we made it through the area ahead of schedule.


 In this circulating article, this woman is claiming that this "lockdown" was ten days. Let me tell you just why she is full of shit. Why in the world would you creep through the area, putting thousands of passengers and crew at such an unnecessary risk? In ten days, we covered several thousand miles (even on a damaged boat). The area with the potential for attacks was at my estimation maybe 500 miles or so. You could walk through the area in less than ten days. Yes, there is a threat, and it is in everyone's best interest to bypass it as soon as possible. I'd also like to point out that the threat only extended from Salalah, Oman until the end of the Strait of Aden. We did transit through the Suez Canal, but the restrictions were over way before that point since we made our ports in both Petra, Jordan and Safalga, Egypt before entering the canal.

Her next greatly exaggerated claim was that it was a "ghost ship" during the ten days. Did I mention that this woman was on the ship as a guest lecturer? That's right-this woman who was moaning about what a terrible "ordeal" she had to endure was employed by the cruise line and there to work. Sigh. There's so much more that I could find wrong with that entire situation, but there's no point.

If you read the letter above, you would see that nothing in there was remotely near enough to make it a ghost ship. Deck 7 was closed after the sun went down. There was nothing preventing us from "lapping up the tropical breezes" during the day. We were asked to close our stateroom curtains at night. That was it. The only "inconveniences" to the passengers were limited to not being about to have your after dinner drink outside. Good thing there are so many indoor bars. Life went on as normal. Nobody was angry, or upset, or terrified. The music never stopped, the bars never closed, and the show went on. We were scheduled for those days to be at sea anyway-which means that this disrupted absolutely nothing. No ports were missed, no excursions were cancelled.

Actual picture of me during the crossing
We did have an additional drill-and it was optional. It lasted approximately five minutes.

Someone asked me why I felt the need to dispute this "article" and I'll tell you why. I love to travel. I really, truly love to travel. Often, I have friends or family who will call me brave or crazy for choosing to travel to a certain area. When I announced I was heading to the Middle East for this trip, I was called insane. Out of my mind. And a lot of this, in my opinion, has to do with the fact that there are people out there like Carolyne Jasinski who grossly exaggerate things, and help perpetuate these fears.  Statements like these succeed in swaying people from vacationing in a certain country, or region. Truthfully, I felt completely safe for almost all of the time that I spent in the Middle East. The security staff of not just the cruise line, but of each country's ports were meticulous. We had lots of additional spot checks. The cruise line also provided security guards for each excursion bus at certain ports (which is no small number, even for a smaller ship such as ours). To date, while there have been a handful of attempts on significantly smaller ships (ie. yachts), there has never been a successful cruise ship hijacking. 

A little common sense when traveling goes a long way. Be aware of your surroundings. Follow any instructions given by your tour guide. If something doesn't look right or feel right, get out of there or ask for help. Keep copies of important travel documents and make sure that you have embassy information for your country, including phone numbers and addresses. Register your trip with the State Department, and pay attention to any travel advisories issued by your government. Obviously, nobody can predict the future. Things are rapidly changing across not just the Middle East but also in places such as Europe where up until a short while ago, most people would have felt completely safe and comfortable traveling there. I've walked down the streets of Paris and London that have been the scene of recent terrorist attacks. I had a friend in Barcelona this past week who was lucky enough to have missed the attack because she was running 20 minutes late. They were getting ready to head to Las Ramblas to do some sightseeing. The point of these cowardly attacks is to spread fear and terror. When I travel, I don't do it because I'm looking for trouble or to prove a point. But by staying home and hiding, and giving up something that I love, they win-they've accomplished their goal. I'm very much aware that something awful can happen at anytime and in any place.

I'll leave you with a few pictures from this amazing trip, which we would have missed had we decided to cancel the trip because of the pirates. Check back soon-I have so much more about this extra-eventful trip!
The tallest building in the world-The Burj Khalifia. Dubai, UAE
Taken from the 154th floor of The Burj Khalifia - Dubai, UAE
The Burj Khalifia - Dubai, UAE
Beach day - Fujairah, UAE
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Muscat, Oman

The Sultan Qaboos Palace - Muscat, Oman

Shopping at the Old Muscat Souk. I bought one of these beautiful lamps home - Muscat, Oman

Maghseel Blow Holes & Marneef Cave. Not what you typically picture when you think of the Middle East, is it? - Oman

The Treasury - Petra, Jordan

Riding a camel - Petra, Jordan
Luxor Temple - Luxor, Egypt
Luxor Temple - Luxor, Egypt
Luxor Temple - Luxor, Egypt
Rows of Sphinx. Luxor Temple - Luxor, Egypt
I got to go in the tomb of King Tut! Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Canoptic Jars (that now sit in my living room) from Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Out on the Jordan River - Israel

The Baptismal Site on the River Jordan - Israel

Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave his famous sermon - Israel

The Virgin Mary's childhood home, where it's said that the Archangel Michael appeared to her to tell her that she was to give birth to Jesus. Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation - Israel

A close-up of The Virgin Mary's childhood home. Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation - Israel

The Basilica of the Annunciation - Israel
Crete, Greece

Crete, Greece

The view from the top of the Fort of St. Lawrence - Dubrovnik, Croatia

For my fellow GoT fans- the shame stairs! Dubrovnik, Croatia

The view from the top of the Fort of St. Lawrence - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Old Towne - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Another popular Got film site - Dubrovnik, Croatia

The view from the top of the Fort of St. Lawrence - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sailing into Venice aboard the Norwegian Star - Venice, Italy

The best bowl of pasta in my entire life, at a little cafe on Easter Sunday - Venice, Italy

Piazza San Marco - Venice, Italy

The Grand Canal - Venice, Italy

Piazza San Marco just as the sun was coming up - Venice, Italy


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