Cruise Ship Encounters Red Sea Tensions on Repositioning Voyage

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Despite the turbulence in the Red Sea that has resulted in many cruise lines rerouting ships to avoid conflicts, Crystal Symphony voyaged into the Red Sea on April 1, 2024, with only crew members and no passengers.

Crystal Symphony Navigating Tense Waters

Amid escalating tensions in the Red Sea, Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony found itself in a precarious position. On a repositioning voyage from Mumbai, India, to the Mediterranean – carried out without passengers.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) received a report that Crystal Symphony was traveling 150 nautical miles northwest of Al Hudaydah, Yemen, when an “entity claiming to be the Yemini Navy” made contact. 

The entity requested the vessel deactivate its Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking system, a crucial safety feature that uses VHF radio channels to transmit a ship’s identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status, and other safety-related information to other ships and shore-based receivers.

Shortly after the exchange, a crew member aboard the 51,044-gross-ton Harmony-class ship reported the sound of suspected gunfire, prompting an immediate investigation by relevant authorities. However, the cruise line confirmed with Cruise Hive this was not the case.

Cruise Hive reached out to Crystal Cruises and received the following statement:During Crystal Symphony’s transit, a minor technical issue occurred involving a cracked window in a crew cabin. This incident was swiftly investigated by our crew and determined to be unrelated to any security concerns in the region. At no point was the safety of the ship or its crew compromised.

We can confirm there were no ships in the vicinity as confirmed by the U.S Navy; at no time did the vessel report gunshots or anything similar and we are working with authorities to rectify this statement,” the cruise line said.

Despite warnings from the UKMTO and various maritime operators to exercise caution in the Red Sea, Crystal Symphony is currently sailing through the region on what was initially planned as a 17-day Easter cruise from Mumbai to Athens.

Due to safety concerns, Crystal Cruises had already cancelled the passenger voyage aboard Crystal Symphony on February 16. It also rerouted Crystal Serenity, which is on a 141-night world cruise, to avoid taking passengers through the Red Sea.

Crystal Symphony Cruise Ship
Crystal Symphony Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: yanchi1984)

Rather than circumnavigate Africa to avoid the Red Sea, Crystal Symphony maintained a route similar to its intended voyage to reposition the ship. By passing through the Suez Canal in Egypt via the Red Sea, the ship can avoid the lengthy and potentially hazardous journey around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, cutting the voyage by thousands of nautical miles and several days.

According to UKMTO, Crystal Symphony is currently nearing the southern entrance of the Suez Canal as it makes its way to Limassol, Cyprus.

We can further confirm that Crystal Symphony safely and successfully completed a transit of the Red Sea as part of a repositioning voyage. The ship was escorted by the U.S. Navy as a standard precautionary measure while traveling through the high-risk area. Crystal Symphony is en route to Cyprus to resume sailing with guests on April 6,Crystal Cruises added.

The ship is scheduled to depart on its next passenger cruise on April 6 from Limassol to Athens. The 7-night “Europe & Mediterranean” journey will stay in safer waters, visiting Rhodes, Chania, Katakolon (Olympia), and Monemvasia, Greece.

A Strategic Thoroughfare at Risk

The Red Sea serves as a crucial maritime corridor linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. At the heart of the unrest are the Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, who have escalated their offensive through the use of armed drones and sea mines. The tactics aim to disrupt and potentially hijack maritime traffic.

Read Also: The Impact of Red Sea Tensions on Cruising

The increase in attacks has drawn international concern, prompting countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to bolster their naval presence in the region.

In response to the volatile situation, the cruise industry has been forced to adapt, with several major players cancelling or rerouting their voyages to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

This included Crystal Cruises, as well as Virgin Voyages, P&O Cruises, Cunard Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, and Carnival Corporation’s brand portfolio, including Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Lines.

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