On Friday January 6th, a passenger who traveled on an airplane to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, picked up his luggage at baggage claim, went into the bathroom and removed a firearm from his checked bag, and then proceeded to start shooting people in the passenger baggage area. The shooting resulted in five people killed, and six others injured. The shooting suspect is a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran named Esteban Santiago.
While this tragedy is another example of needless deaths caused by some psychotic troubled individual, it would normally not be an incident discussed on a maritime news blog. However, this incident actually ended up having a direct impact on the cruise ship industry. Four of the passengers killed at the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting were about to go on a cruise. Cruise ships were also delayed in their departures. Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas, Carnival Conquest, Holland America’s Eurodam and Coral Princess left several hours later than they were supposed to. The mood aboard the ships was also affected, as many of the passengers had either witnessed or heard about the deadly attack.
In fact, Holland America Line offered free counseling to the passengers on its ships because of the incident. Fort Lauderdale is a popular hub for passengers flying into Florida to board a cruise ship at the Port Everglades port. Passengers fly in to the airport, and then are transported to the cruise ship by representatives of the different cruise lines. Holland America’s ships frequently depart from the Port Everglades port, and this traumatic event affected several of the passengers who were on their way to a Holland America cruise that day. The cruise line contracted with Empathia, an emergency management company, to offer free counseling to those affected passengers via a hotline.
This tragedy also raises questions about an individual’s rights to travel with a firearm, and there will be serious questions about whether a passenger should be able to so easily transport a firearm in his suitcase like this individual did.
Cruise ship companies will also have to take a look at their procedures regarding screening what passengers bring on board cruise ships, and continue to address their procedures for guarding against terrorist attacks while at sea. Over the years, security has become tougher regarding screening luggage and passengers as they board the cruise ships. Typically, cruises did not do what airlines did with respect to screening the passengers and their luggage. With the increased number of terrorist acts and isolated incidents, like what occurred at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, we can expect increased security not only at the airports, but also on board cruises. Cruise ships carry thousands of passengers, and can be the target of a terrorist attack. There must be adequate screening process for the passengers and their luggage, including some system alerting the cruise ship companies to any high risk passengers who are booked on the cruise.
Our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of all those affected by this recent attack.