Staying Safe In Port

BY Beth Williams

Major national and international initiatives went into effect to heighten the security of ships and ports in 2004. What effect have they had on the safety of cruise passengers ashore? The answer, alas, is probably none directly, though there may be a slight increase in safety within the ports themselves, because of the better fencing, increased surveillance and more intense review of identification documents.

The number one issue that anyone who takes a cruise internationally should consider is the purchase of travel medical and evacuation insurance. Obviously, other types of travel insurance could be equally important, especially if you need to cancel your cruise for an emergency before your trip, but travel medical and evacuation insurance is many times more important. Why? because when you travel outside the United States, many personal medical insurance policies do not provide coverage outside the USA (including most versions of Medicare), and if they do, you will find that you need to abide by certain requirements and approvals.  Additionally, you will have to most always pay the bill yourself, and depending on the illness, could be several thousands of dollars.

The other important factor is the ability to have medical evacuation insurance, because if you have a significant injury or illness in port or on the ship, you would be responsible for the cost of a helicopter or air ambulance to fly you to a “qualified” hospital or “Level 1” trauma center (or equivalent) for emergency treatment.  This is why having adequate travel medical and evacuation insurance is so important when visiting international ports as you never know what type of accident you might have.

Outside of travel insurance, here are a few tips to consider when visiting cruise ports around the world.

Assess In-Port Risks
While the majority of international ports of call are safe – you do have to keep in mind that from the criminal’s perspective, they tend to “fish were the fish are,” and for pickpockets, sneak thieves, and others, that means taking advantage of unsuspecting cruise passengers can be the “holy grail.” Again, keep in mind that falling victim to crime while visiting international ports is a rare occurrence, however, when it does occur, (outside of overcharging) it almost always involves some type of petty theft pickpocketing of wallets and phones, purse, or travel bag snatching.

When visiting cruise ports, be particularly cautious of crowded tourist areas, street fairs, marketplaces, lines at tourist attractions, public transportation, or anywhere else where your wallet, purse or travel bag may be vulnerable.  To view a number of videos that show how pickpockets operate, as well as listings of scams broken down by country, visit the following website on our blog:

Research the Port Risks Before Departing
One area that few cruise passengers do is research the destinations and ports they will be visiting for crime trends.  While it’s obvious why someone would not do this, as falling victim to crime is the farthest thought from their mind (as it should), but always remember the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

To begin a quick search for crime trends or ports and countries you plan on visiting, here are a few ideas:

Anytime you travel abroad, U.S citizens are strongly encouraged to go online and register their foreign travels with the U.S Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which is a free service to allow U.S citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S Embassy or Consulate.

Before visiting any port, consider checking the U.S. State Department updates and warnings for the country and port visited, as sometimes you can learn some valuable safety, security, and health information. Visit travel.state.gov  and search for the county you are visiting. This is probably the most valuable site on the Web for security-conscious travelers.

To give you an example, here are the pages for U.S Department of State’s Costa Rica information pages:

Research other Government Travel Advisories:  I also recommend that travelers look at travel advisories from other countries.  For example, the Canadian Government has a different amount of information on their government’s Contra Rica website page then that’s on the U.S Department of State’s.

The State Department also operates the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) which, though aimed primarily at U.S. corporations operating abroad, offers a substantial amount of in-depth information on crime and other security concerns. Their website is www.osac.gov.

Do a Google search for current crime trends involving the destination(s) you will be visiting prior to departure.  Search terms such as “crime against American tourists [name of specific country here].” (Quotes and brackets should not be included in the string.) While many of the web results may not be from government agencies, and some may not be valid or recent at all, they will give you some idea of what has been written about the subject.

Lastly, ask your cruise security director/manager, cruise director, or shore excursion manager if they are aware of any crime risks for the areas you plan to explore ashore. This may be really important if you plan on exploring a port or city on your own and not part of the cruise ships organized excursions where this crime information is known.

Minimize the Risks You May Encounter
Think about how you are dressed while in-port, especially when visiting ports that have very poor surrounding areas.  Avoid American logos on your clothes, as well as minimize the amount of expensive looking jewelry you may wear while in-port.  When it comes to your wallet and purse, I’ve always recommended that traveler’s “sanitize” their wallet or purse.  Remove all the credit and ID cards you don’t need while traveling abroad – especially while in port.  This about if you had to report your wallet or purse stolen to local police, what’s in your wallet/purse now?  Make it easy on yourself and clean out un-needed cards and IDs.

Think about this:  “What if?”  What if you lost your wallet or cell phone in port? How would you react and most importantly, what would you do?  Its all about having a plan that if you were to be involved in some type of common travel mishap, how would you handle and respond to it.

Again, the chance of falling victim to crime while in port is very small – however, being a prudent and street smart traveler whose aware of his or her surroundings can be a valuable tool to help ensure your cruise is filled with pleasant memories and not that of filling out a police report.  Remember when it comes to crime, the best defense is common sense.