12 Times Cruise Ships Were Attacked By Pirates (And What Happened)

Think of cruise ships and pirates, and your mind might go to the Caribbean and the many excursions you can enjoy based around ‘classic’ piracy of the olden days.

But modern-day pirates are a real concern for cruise ships, and there have been several attacks in recent times.

A dramatic and action-packed scene where a cruise ship is being attacked by pirates. This visually striking scenario is captured with high intensity, showing speedboats and pirates in combat gear approaching the large, luxurious cruise ship. Helicopters hover above, adding to the chaotic atmosphere of the attack. The scene is likely from a movie or a video game, given its high level of detail and cinematic quality. This kind of imagery creates a dynamic and thrilling narrative, contrasting the typically serene and peaceful image of cruise travel.

This isn’t the swashbuckling stuff of fantasy – when pirates attack cruise ships, it can be scary for guests, and it’s dangerous.

Let’s take a look at the incidents involving cruise ships and pirates, so you can see how often pirates attack cruise ships and what happens when they do.

Achille Lauro – 1985

Technically, this isn’t a pirate attack, but some people think of it that way. Piracy tends to be for financial gain, but the incident involving the Achille Lauro was more of a terrorist attack.

The cruise ship set sail from Genoa on 3rd October 1985 and, four days later, arrived in Alexandria, Egypt. Of the 748 passengers onboard, 651 disembarked to explore the port – at this time, four terrorists brandished AK-47 machine guns and essentially took the crew and the remaining 97 passengers hostage (source).

The hijackers were from the Palestine Liberation Organization and demanded the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners from Israel. One passenger was killed – an elderly Jewish man in a wheelchair – and he was thrown overboard. 

Two days later, the ship docked back in Port Said and released the remaining hostages in exchange for the terrorists being allowed passage through Egypt. The next day, the hijackers were arrested after a flight they had boarded was forced to land at a NATO base. They were jailed for between 15 and 30 years.

Seabourn Spirit – 2005

The first notable incident involving Somali pirates and a cruise ship took place in 2005 with the Seabourn Spirit. Off the coast of Somalia, the cruise ship was attacked while carrying 150 passengers, along with a crew of 160.

The cruise ship was approached by two small boats that tried to attack the ship while carrying machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The captain put out an announcement to guests to demand everyone stayed below deck, and after a failed attempt to ram the boats, managed to deter them using high-pressure water cannons and a sonic cannon (source).

You can see the pirates, and hear the captain’s announcement, in this video:

Le Ponant – 2008

In 2008, Le Ponant – the flagship of Compagnie du Ponant – was seized by pirates while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. Thankfully there were no passengers onboard the superyacht at the time, but there were 30 crew members.

The pirates held onto the ship for 8 days, before releasing it along with the crew. It’s believed that the company paid a ransom for the release, but that the pirates were later captured and some of the ransom money retrieved. 

MS Astor – 2008

The MS Astor was a small cruise ship sailing for Transocean Tours and, in 2008, it was nearly set upon by pirates while cruising in the Gulf of Oman.

Thankfully, the two speedboats that were trying to approach the ship were headed off by a German frigate, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which opened fire on the speedboats and caused them to turn around and escape.

There were 492 passengers onboard MS Astor during the incident, and according to reports they weren’t even aware that the incident took place – it was all handled so quickly and efficiently.

Nautica – 2008

2008 was an extremely dangerous time for cruise ships, and Oceania Cruises suffered its own piracy incident in November of that year. While Nautica was cruising in the Gulf of Aden, she sailed past several boats that all appeared to be fishing boats. However, two of the boats then sped up and showed signs of hostility.

The Nautica officers began evasive manoeuvres and were able to outrun the two skiffs. One boat did get close to the cruise ship, around 300 yards away, and opened fire with a rifle, but the eight shots did no damage and nobody was harmed during the incident (source).

MS Athena – 2008

The MS Athena’s clash with pirates isn’t well documented. This classic cruise ship, which has been sailing for over 60 years, apparently encountered pirates in December 2008 and was surrounded by several pirate ships, though none made any concerted effort to board the cruise ship.

According to the information I can find, water hoses were deployed but weren’t particularly effective, yet the ship was unharmed. This passenger claims to have been onboard and says that the cruise line tried to downplay what happened:

“As an eyewitness to the event, they were not fisherman, but there was no concerted effort by them to board the ship.”
Source: CruiseCritic

MSC Melody – 2009

The MSC Melody cruise ship sailing on open blue waters. The ship, predominantly white with distinctive black and blue funnel bearing the MSC logo, spans across the frame displaying its length and multiple decks lined with windows. The tranquil sea and clear skies provide a serene setting, enhancing the ship’s graceful voyage.
Photo: Arno Esterhuizen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

MSC Cruises had a run-in with modern pirates when in 2009 the ship MSC Melody was attacked around 500 miles off the coast of the Seychelles. At around 11.35 pm, a small pirate boat pulled alongside the ship and sprayed machine gun fire against the bridge, with guests told to remain below deck.

The crew tried to fight off the pirates with a water cannon, and then exchanged gun fire, using pistols that were stored onboard. This worked, and the pirates gave up on their attack after being unable to board the ship.

The use of pistols meant it was the first time a cruise ship had exchanged gunfire with modern pirates, which was praised by MSC bosses but criticised by some maritime officials for being dangerous when acoustic weaponry would’ve also been effective (source).

Ariva 3 – 2009

There’s not a huge amount of information about this incident either, but the pirate attack on Ariva 3 is often mentioned as an afterthought in articles about the pirate attack on MSC Melody, so it’s verifiable at least.

The Ariva 3 was a Turkish cruise ship sailing to Aden for repairs, with no passengers onboard. There were two Brits and four Japanese crew members on the ship when it was attacked, though it was a bit unusual.

Apparently, the pirates opened fire on the ship for 15 minutes, but then stopped, and left the ship alone. 

SS Oceanic – 2010

The SS Oceanic was an educational cruise ship, which at the time was sailing for the company Peace Boat after being sold by Pullmantur Cruises. On a world cruise, she was attacked sometime in May 2010 while off the coast of Yemen, with pirates using grenades to try and attack the ship before boarding.

The SS Oceanic was able to evade capture by using zig-zag manoeuvres and then a water cannon to blast the pirates, with the ship then approaching a NATO patrol for assistance. The NATO ships were able to then capture the pirates.

Spirit of Adventure – 2011

Spirit of Adventure gracefully sailing across calm blue waters. The vessel is modern and sleek, painted in a dark navy blue with a contrasting yellow funnel. Multiple decks lined with balconies are visible, and the ship is equipped with several large satellite domes. The overcast sky adds a serene and tranquil ambiance to the scene, emphasizing the ship's smooth voyage.

One of the tamest incidents on this list, but it still counts – Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Adventure was enjoying a cruise off the coast of Tanzania in 2011 when a fast-moving boat carrying Somali pirates was spotted on radar, heading for the ship at high speeds.

Guests were told to remain out of sight below deck, and the boat came within several hundred metres of the cruise ship, but that was all that happened – the pirates didn’t open fire, and eventually left the cruise ship alone.

A spokesman for the cruise ship stated that he felt the pirates probably saw that it was a cruise ship, and that security measures were being deployed, and thought better of attacking.

Azamara Journey – 2012

The Azamara Journey cruise ship captured in full motion, cutting through the waters with its distinctive dark hull and white superstructure. The ship is elegantly designed with multiple decks visible, lined with balconies and windows, under a clear blue sky. This vessel is shown near a breakwater, indicating its approach to or departure from a port, with its wake trailing behind, emphasizing its forward movement and dynamic presence in a vibrant maritime setting.

The last pirate attack on a cruise ship that definitively involved modern pirates was an incident with Azamara Journey in 2012, where the ship was approached by several small pirate boats off the coast of Oman.

The ship took evasive manoeuvres and fired off several warning flares, which was enough to put the pirates off their attack – neither got too close. Guests had been told to stay indoors but were able to enjoy the rest of their cruise without incident.

RCGS Resolute – 2020

RCGS Resolute expedition cruise ship navigating through icy waters with a backdrop of dramatic Antarctic scenery. The ship, painted white with a distinctive blue and orange trim on the hull, contrasts strikingly against the rugged, snow-covered mountains and icy shores in the background. Equipped with advanced navigational and satellite technology on its upper decks, the vessel is clearly designed for voyages in challenging polar environments.
Photo: Gordon Leggett / Wikimedia Commons

The most recent incident for this list is an unusual one, and isn’t really a pirate attack on a cruise ship but it’s worth mentioning. It involved the RCGS Resolute, a small cruise ship operating at the time for a Canadian cruise company, while sailing off the coast of Venezuela.

The cruise ship was approached by Naiguata, a patrol boat belonging to the Venezuelan navy, which ordered the cruise ship to change direction and fired shots, with the cruise ship’s owners claiming it was an “act of aggression in international waters”. Ultimately the ships collided, causing the sinking of the Naiguata (but only minor damage to the cruise ship). 

An investigation found that the Naiguata was at fault, but not before the Venezuelan president tried to claim that the cruise ship had been boarded by pirates, and that there were mercenaries onboard trying to attack Venezuelan military bases (source).

Final Word

If you had any worries over pirate attacks on cruise ships, hopefully now you can see they were unfounded. There have been no documented pirate attacks on cruise ships in over a decade, and only a couple of unusual fringe incidents around that which didn’t really involve pirates.

And even when pirates were attacking cruise ships, nobody was ever hurt. The Achille Lauro incident, where a passenger was killed, was more of a terrorist incident

If I’ve missed any pirate attacks on cruise ships in my research then please do let me know in the comments.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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