Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

If cruise sellers were concerned about Europe at the start of this year, they'll likely be even more concerned by the start of next year.

Last week at a forum in Washington, D.C., two of the U.S. government's top security officials gave an assessment of where the fight against terrorism is going, and their comments have bearing on the cruise business.

First, the good news. U.S. and allied forces are steadily gaining back territory in Iraq and Syria held by the radical Islamic State group. An assault to take back Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, can be expected in the next two or three months, said Vincent R. Stewart, a Marine Corps general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

But FBI director James Comey told the 2016 Intelligence & National Security Summit that the fall of Mosul could scatter "hundreds of hardened killers" into Western Europe as a consequence.

"The threat that I believe will dominate the next five years for the FBI will be the impact of the crushing of the caliphate," Comey said.

Five years is a long time. For the cruise industry, that could mean that 2016 was just a preview of coming attractions as far as European deployment goes.

Cruise lines are already taking steps to reduce supply in the Mediterranean. First Celebrity Cruises moved the Equinox back to the Caribbean. Then Holland America Line redeployed the Oosterdam to Alaska.

What movement there's been in the other direction has been to northern Europe, with the Norwegian Getaway sent to cruise the Baltic. But there's only so much capacity that can be absorbed in markets like the Baltic and Alaska with short seasons defined by the weather.

It can go two ways in Europe: Either Americans get more used to the new climate of uncertainty in making plans to go overseas, or there will be fewer Americans cruising in Europe for the foreseeable future.

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