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Black Swan By Kiril Krastev - Wikipedia Commons

Terror Attack on Cruise Ship - A Black Swan Event?

The internet has been buzzing with the term "black swan event" leaving many wondering what the term means and how it might affect them personally. Cruise Bruise Investigations researched, so-called "black swan events", and the "actual risk" to the average traveler or cruise ship passenger. First we looked at the origin of the term and what it means to the masses in 2016.

Roman poet Juvenal's phrase "black swan" was a Latin expression dating back to 16th century London as a statement of impossibility. The London expression presumes that all swans must be white because all swans had white feathers. Therefore, a black swan was impossible.

Black swan events were discussed by Lebanese-American essayist, scholar, statistician, and risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb wrote a four volume philosophical essay on uncertainty, titled the Incerto. The Incerto is comprised by the books, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007), The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms,(2010) and Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012).


Taleb is a highly respected scholar who has a bachelor and Master of Science degrees from the University of Paris, an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in Management Science from the University of Paris.

Taleb has served as Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering since September 2008, and as co-Editor in Chief of the academic journal, Risk and Decision Analysis since September 2014.

His motto is, "If you see fraud and don't shout fraud, you are a fraud".

When it comes to Black Swan, one of the best pieces of advice he gives, in my opinion, actually summarizes many of the lawyers who make their living filing lawsuits against the cruise lines, "Beware of the person who gives advice, telling you that a certain action on your part is “good for you” while it is also good for him, while the harm to you doesn’t directly affect him."

This is important to note, as the cruise lines are constantly put into the line of fire through public postings by blogging lawyers who criticize the cruise lines' perceived security and safety short comings without offering any viable solutions for improvement. Professing to be advocates for cruise line safety without actually offering rational suggestions to improve passenger and crew cruise ship safety is self-serving.

The Black Swan Event - The criteria for a black swan event has three elements:
1. The event is a surprise (to the observer)
2. The event has a major effect.
3. After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected; that is, the relevant data were available but unaccounted for in risk mitigation programs.

Taleb states that a black swan event depends on the observer. For example, what may be a black swan surprise for a turkey is not a black swan surprise to its butcher; hence the objective should be to "avoid being the turkey" by identifying areas of vulnerability in order to "turn the Black Swans white".

We looked at past cruise industry and maritime "black swan events" in order to understand the areas of vulnerability. The first terror attack on a cruise ship was rather mild, considering how bad it could have been. It was a warning that terror attacks aboard cruise ships were not only possible, it was probable. Star Lauro's Achille Lauro was attacked by terrorists on October 8, 1985.

The terrorists took control of the cruise ship in the Mediterranean off Egypt as it was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said, Egypt. Now, the situation had gone from, "improbable" to "likely will" happen again.

On July 11, 1988, three years later, Greek cruise ship City of Poros sailing day-cruises for Cycladic Cruises on the Mediterranean Sea from Flisvos Marina to Hydra, Aegina and Poros when the cruise ship was stormed by Palestinian gunmen who killed nine passengers.

On October 12, 2000, terrorists exploded a small boat alongside the USS Cole as it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. The blast ripped a 40-foot-wide hole near the waterline of the Cole, killing 17 American sailors and injuring many more.

Nearly seventeen years after the City of Poros event, the black swan scenario unfolded again with the passenger ship Superferry 14 owned by WG&A. Superferry 14 was destroyed by a terrorist's bomb on February 7, 2004 near Manilla, Philippines killing 116 people. A television set containing a 8-pound TNT bomb had been placed on board.

Then, eleven years after the Superferry 14 bombing, terrorists attacked cruise ship passengers at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Tunisia on March 18, 2015. The Bardo Museum is located on the Mediterranean Sea. The attack was perfomed by a group of terrorists who opened fire on a group of cruise ship passengers who were exiting their tour busses, killing or wounding more than 50 passengers.

These past events warrant more scrutiny on recent events such as three fires aboard AIDAprima on January 11, January 13 and January 31 while the ship was under construction at Mitsubishi Shipyard in Nagasaki, Japan. The third fire was identified as arson.

The shipyard is located in the same geographical region on the East China Sea as the attack on Superferry 14. So, a terror attack in the region is not entirely out of the question. With another shipyard fire heavily damaging the cruise ship Emerald Belle at the Netherlands Den Breejen Shipyard the next day, it would not be unreasonable to think either of both of those events could have been "test runs" for something much, much bigger by ISIS involving a cruise ship.


Are "test runs" taking place in the cruise industry? U.S. Investigaters say that Yemenis Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezam al Murisi were arrested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in 2010. Their flights originated in the U. S. at O’Hare airport in Chicago. The two were thought to be doing a terror attack "test run" on an airplane when a collection of troubling items were seized from the men in luggage.

This luggage was intercepted by the American authorities and remained in the United States. The men were ultimately released, but a number of troubling issues have been left unresolved. Netherlands Den Breejen Shipyard and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport are only 60 miles apart. It is reasonable to think the event was a "test run" at Den Breejen Shipyard.

As well, Philippine Airlines Flight 434 was on a flight on December 11, 1994 from Cebu to Tokyo, Japan when it was seriously damaged by a bomb planted by terrorist Ramzi Yousef, during a "test run", killing one passenger and damaging vital control systems. The bombing was a part of the unsuccessful Bojinka terrorist attacks.

The Bojinka plot was a large-scale, three-phase attack planned by Islamists Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for January 1995. They planned to assassinate Pope John Paul II, blow up 11 airliners in flight from Asia to the United States, killing 4,000 passengers and crash a plane into the headquarters of the CIA in Virginia. This complex scenario sounds similiar to the September 11, 2011 World Trade Center attack.

We have seen confirmed "test runs" using aircraft, using a cruise ship as a test run is not improbable. Looking deeper, it may be easy to target a cruise ship in a shipyard when it is empty, but actually targeting a cruise ship with thousands of passengers and crew aboard, might be a stretch with all the security controls in place at ports.

We looked at cruise ship port security as the last line of defense against a terror attack inside a cruise ship. To look at port security, we follow cases of crew members caught smuggling illegal drugs aboard cruises ships to see if a "test run" or a full blown terrorist attack could take place today. On January 3, 2016 cruise ship crew aboard Norwegian Dawn smuggled over ten pounds of cocaine into New Orleans, Louisiana on a Caribbean cruise. Smuggling large quantities of illegal substances aboard cruise ships happens every year.

March 8, 2015 crew members smuggled over 15 pounds of cocaine from Honduras to Tampa, Florida on a Caribbean cruise.

March 20, 2014 cruise ship passenger Adrian Bradley Trench smuggled a combined 5 pounds of cocaine and heroin from the Bahamas to Palm Beach Florida aboard Bahamas Celebration.

In April 2013, two crew members smuggled over 30 pounds of cocaine aboard MSC Magnífica on a Mediterranean cruise in Spain.

Would this amount of explosives be enough to take down a cruise ship? Had any of these men smuggled the same amount of explosives aboard the cruise ships after it left a foreign port, the ship would have never made it to the next port.

Port Of Miami Cruise Ships Terminal

If a terrorist group wanted to make a really huge impact, getting the bomb on the cruise ship during a Caribbean cruise may not be a problem in some ports. Choosing to explode it at sea would not be the greatest impact. Exploding the bomb right after the cruise ship docked at Miami, Florida, before passengers had disembarked on a Sunday, with numerous other cruises ships docked and passengers in the cruise terminal might be a "black swan event". The best defense from that scenario taking place is government security training and support in cruise ship ports around the world.

Are the cruise industry and American government doing enough to ensure a terror attack doesn't take place on cruise ship in an American port? To answer that question we researched government resources to see what is being done.

For the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Forum held on March 25-26, 2014. The forum outline agenda stated that Cruise Ships: Examining Safety, Operations and Oversight, will review the regulatory framework, ship design and fire protection, operations and corporate oversight of cruise ships.

It also explored some recent high-profile incidents. The forum's goal was to encourage dialogue among industry stakeholders, regulators, and the general public to better understand cruise ship safety and oversight. Participants included regulators such as the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), vessel owners and operators, researchers and industry groups.

Princess Cruises Command Center

Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines made the most impressive presentations on the topic of cruise passenger safety. Princess Cruises' Rai Caluori Executive Vice President, Fleet Operations made a presentation titled, Cruise Ships: Examining Safety, Operations and Oversight. The Princess Cruise presentation included information on their comprehensive Emergency Response Center with a 12 Person Response Team. The impressive presentation showed that Princess Cruises is very much prepared for the unexpected.

The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) presentation by Hernan Zini, Fleet Captain focused on their high tech solutions for passenger management including PDA Mustering during mustering and evacuation. The presentation included Future IT Solutions using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. The benefits include the ability to determine direction of travel, ie. Evacuation to assembly station or embarkation to survival craft to make sure everyone is accounted for, where they are during the evacuation, ensuring no person is left behind. Yet, the presentation says, "RFID technology has engendered considerable controversy and even product boycotts by consumer privacy advocates who have referred to RFID tags as "spychips".

This demonstrates that passenger privacy aboard cruise ships is a major concern to those who cruise and the response to the RCCL RFID demonstrates why, when an incident takes place aboard, getting the details and videos involving one person, infringes on the privacy of others involved or who are seen on the video. Cruise Bruise Investigations notes, that privacy is so important to some people they would rather be lost at sea, than accounted for with RFID.

Presentations were also made by Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Bahamas Maritime Authority, Center for Simulator Maritime Training, Northrop Grumman Maritime Systems, Viking Life Saving Equipment and others.

From the presentations the cruise lines shared, it's clear they take passenger safety and security very seriously and are actively improving and innovating their practices. But, this doesn't mean "black swan events" are improbable.

In a FEMA document on the topic of explosive blasts, the agency says, "Explosive events have historically been a favorite tactic of terrorists for a variety of reasons and this is likely to continue into the future".

The document goes on to say, "A briefcase bomb is approximately 50 pounds, and a pipe bomb is generally in the range of 5 pounds of TNT equivalent”. Now, imagine that blast being placed inside the cruise ship at a strategic location inside, near the hull, and it's not hard to imagine a ship sinking in the middle of the sea, with a potential total loss of life aboard. With a larger, newer cruise ship, loss of life in the middle of the night could climb to nearly 10,000 souls, far surpassing the deaths from the World Trade Center.

FEMA also warns the public of one very important fact. "The DoD, GSA, and DOS have considerable experience with blast effects and blast mitigation. However, many architects and building designers do not have such experience." It's more than evident, that cruise ships are not engineered to withstand bomb blasts.

Smuggling illegal substances aboard cruise ships docked in foreign ports is not a "black swan event", it's a white swan event, high predictable. Given recent events, as outlined above, foreign port security leaves much to be desired when it comes to cruise ship safety.

A "black swan event" is not a cruise line safety issue, as much as it is a cruise port security issue, governed by cruise port governments around the world. Cruise ship passengers and crew are only as safe as their weakest link and the weakest link has been proven time and time again to be foreign port security.

Douglas S Diggle (Twitter: @DouglasDiggle) MBA is CEO of Across Oceans Group (AOG). Their website says, "Across Oceans Group is a market leader in consulting and advisory services for cruise lines, tourism, offshore, shipping, hospitality technology, airlines, government agencies and travel industries."

In a press release for AOG we noted, "Douglas S. Diggle, CEO says, our breadth of experience across multiple market segments gives us the unique perspective with which to serve our customers with tailored solutions . . ."

Perhaps those tailored solutions include a contingency plan for "black swan". So, we find it interesting that Diggle is tweeting about #blackswan. February 2, 2016: NATO says #CruiseShip PAX are targets. Industry Planning for #BlackSwan #MRO."

January 21, 2016: "Are Cruise Ships Prepared for Terrorist Attacks? Ask @DouglasDiggle a MRO Mass Rescue Expert"

January 5, 2016: "2016 - Ship Cyber #Security Guidelines @Cruise_Ferry @CLIAGlobal @CarnivalPLC @Connect_IGT".

The tweet includes a graphic which, appears to be produced by Bimco.org, shows a cutaway diagram of a cruise ship. One section of note says this, "Sink or Swim? Not an Option. Our advanced fire suppression system uses heat absorption and molecular level chemistry to put out fires in 30 seconds or less without depleting available oxygen. "

Sink or Swim

December 9, 21015: "Operation Black Swan Lead in 2012 & 2015 #DHS #FBI #FEMA #NEMA #DOD #USCG & Several Cruise Lines HAL PCL RCL CCL "

It would seem Diggle believes the cruise lines are ready for an expected terrorism event, which would make it a "white swan event" instead of an unexpected "black swan event".

While some think cruise lines aren't taking passenger safety seriously, unless they have a contingency plan for a meteor the size of mars striking earth, the Cruise Bruise Investigation shows the cruise lines are as ready, if not more, for a "black swan" event when compared to other major industries.