Cruise ships are more likely targets of an attack than are
cargo container vessels, according to a research group.
WASHINGTON -- Cruise ships and ferry boats are more likely
targets of terrorist attacks than the cargo containers that
have been the focus of recent maritime security efforts, a
prominent research group said Monday.
But it also
concluded that the risk of any type of attack involving
maritime targets is relatively low, though other experts
Strikes against cruise ships and commuter craft could
produce the high numbers of casualties and the publicity
that terrorists seek, a study by the RAND Corp.'s Center for
Terrorism Risk Management Policy concluded.
The cruise industry is a growing presence in the ports of
Los Angeles and Long Beach, with more than a dozen cruise
lines now calling in Los Angeles throughout the year.
Precautions already taken at the World Cruise Terminal in
San Pedro include the availability of bomb detection dogs.
RAND noted that despite the increased security at cruise
ship terminals, however, few passengers are physically
searched before boarding and luggage is seldom screened
before it is transferred to staterooms. The ships also are
vulnerable while anchored in foreign ports that often have
little security, the study said.
"The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are a huge
gateway for the cruise industry. It's an important market
for us," said Christopher Heywood, corporate communications
manager for LA Inc. The Convention and Visitors Bureau,
which in recent years has launched a promotion titled
"It's definitely an important industry and anything we
can do to thwart a terrorist attack would be smart," Heywood
said. "We don't want to compromise (passenger) convenience,
so it's a delicate balance, and we don't want people scared
to go on a cruise. But if I were a passenger on a ship, I'd
rather have a little bit of inconvenience if a terrorist
threat could be thwarted."
Commercial ferries could be particularly vulnerable
because the need for rapid boarding to meet schedules makes
it difficult to screen passengers and vehicles for
explosives, the study noted.
With some ferries able to carry nearly 1,000 passengers,
there is a potential for a high casualty count from a
suicide car bomb or other major attack, RAND said.
Ferries in 30 U.S. urban areas carry a total of more than
66 million passengers annually, and the tally is much higher
in many other countries, the study said. Cruise ships, many
of which can hold several thousand passengers, could be even
more attractive targets.
Although those large ships would be less vulnerable to
conventional explosives, large numbers of passengers could
be affected by a biological attack on a ship's food and
water supplies, RAND noted.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United
States, the federal government has poured millions of
dollars into upgrading security at the nation's cargo ports
and finding ways to make boxcar-size ship cargo containers
harder to tamper with.
Security also has been stepped up at cruise ship
terminals in San Diego, Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Although a nuclear device smuggled into the country in a
shipping container could be the deadliest and most
economically devastating form of maritime terrorist attack,
the likelihood is low because of the difficulty in obtaining
the necessary technology, the RAND study said.
After examining the various risks of maritime terrorism,
RAND concluded that based on historic data, all of the
threats are less likely than generally perceived. While the
fear of such attacks has increased, RAND said, "The
assessments of the threat are not empirically grounded."
"Historically, terrorists have avoided maritime attacks,"
the study said.
Land targets are more accessible and are easier for news
media to cover, and operating at sea requires specialized
skills and equipment. Less than 2 percent of past terrorist
attacks have affected maritime targets, the study said, and
most involved hijackings of cruise ships in attempts to gain
release of imprisoned terrorists.
Perhaps the best known of these was the 1985 takeover of
the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by members of the
Palestinian Liberation Front, during which a disabled
American, Leon Klinghoffer, was thrown overboard.
But RAND's conclusions and its use of historic data to
predict future terrorist actions were dismissed by other
"I hate that way of looking at things, that takes the
status quo as the norm when we're living in revolutionary
times," said Michael Ledeen, a scholar with the American
"Obviously, they are a target," Ledeen said of cruise
ships and ferries. "If they took over one of those large
cruise ships, I think they'd get a lot of publicity -- and