May 24, 2005 – Cruise ships security experts were telling police commissioners Tuesday morning what kind of security they maintained on the ships and what they expected from local police forces.
Outside the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police conference room at the Carambola Resort, Sgt. Thomas Hannah, V.I. Police Department spokesman, was saying bring on the cruise ships, St. Croix is secure.
Hannah said he always thought it was a bad rap when people said crime was the reason cruise ships stopped visiting St. Croix a couple of years ago. He did admit, "There were some things that we needed to do and we did them. We continue to do them."
He said, "St. Croix is as safe as other cruise destinations, if not safer."
He said the main thing is visitors must use common sense. He explained, "A few years ago a tourist got off the ship and asked some guys to take him to a house of ill repute. They said sure. They took him out and robbed him. That is when those things happen."
Inside the conference room Stanford Deno, director of operations, International Council of Cruise Lines, said he sees a cruise ship as a secure building with a 24-hour guard.
A major component of making this happen, according to Deno, is controlling access. "We need to keep people out of where they don't belong." He said this is done with simple things – fencing, lights, and guards – and doesn't require high technology.
He said cruise line officials now screen passengers almost as much as airlines do. "We don't let weapons on. However, we know you can slip a steak knife in your pocket at dinner, so why should we take your little pocket knife."
He said his council represents 115 vessels, 90 percent of the North American cruise market, or 10 million passengers a year. He said what the council wants is an "appropriate response" from the local police force. He said, "If we find a weapon on board you don't need to show up with the islands' entire military. However, we do want a police presence."
He said ICCL ships follow strict environmental guidelines. He said a pristine Caribbean environment is critical to the cruise line economy. He said, "This is not a destination that this industry wants to lose, destroy or pollute."
He said no waste water is released until ships are at least four miles from the coast and moving at six knots.
Speaking after Deno was Capt. Howard Newhoff of the Royal Caribbean line. He said, "Security is paramount to our industry." He described the cruise ships as small communities. These communities are growing larger.
Royal Caribbean Explorer class holds 3,500 passengers and about 1,300 crew.
Newhoff said Royal Caribbean has just added three new ships. These ships are in the Freedom class and will hold 4,200 passengers and 1,500 crew members.
Two events that changed the cruise industry, according to Newhoff, were the hijacking of the Achillo Lauro in 1985 and 9/11.
He said before the Achillo Lauro hijacking, where an American was killed, cruise lines did not have security officers nor security plans, but they soon started getting them.
After 9/11, everything went on maritimum security, according to Newhoff. He said, "We realized just how bad things could get." As an example of how things changed, he cited the visitors' policy. Before 9/11 it was lenient, "Now we don't have one. My family cannot even get on a ship to visit."
He said that some ports are more secure than others and his company lets the port officials know if the company feels the officials are not doing the right things.
V.I. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis might have been letting cruise officials know that V.I. officials were doing the right things when he introduced Officer Bridget Conon during a morning press session.
He called her a pioneer in tourist-oriented policing. In 1996 she started a tourist-oriented police unit on St. Croix. She and the unit moved to St. John where she presently works.
She says she has contacted Pamela Richards, commissioner of tourism, and other officials, offering to do anything she can to help get cruise lines to make regular calls at St. Croix. She said, "It broke my heart when the cruise lines quit going to St. Croix."
Her unit presently focuses on the tourist-intensive area around the St. John ferry terminal.
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