Richard Turen
Richard Turen
This week I'll continue with our survey of security measures used by the major players in the European river cruise market. I was surprised by the concerns voiced by many of the clients who accompanied us on our recent Danube cruise about the perceived lack of adequate security precautions. Many saw this as a reason to avoid or postpone future cruises on the major rivers of Europe.

The majority of comments had to do with security measures in place in the towns along the rivers and, in particular, the quays and piers where the ships tie up. In my last column, I recounted the results of my survey of the security policies of the various lines; this column is a continuation of the last.

Scenic River Cruises: The front desk staff and other personnel on Scenic receive security training. They patrol the ship every hour on a 24-hour schedule. This is verified with electronic check-in stations throughout each vessel.

All guests must use an electronic tag to board the ship. Crew members manning the entry doors, a Scenic spokesman said, "are able to recognize guests by the second day." This, Scenic said, enables the staff to know when someone is off the ship at any given time.

When asked about pier safety, the company correctly points out that piers in Europe are under the control of river authorities, and "they do not place any manned security at these piers." That seems to me to be a rather honest assessment of what I have witnessed in my time cruising Europe's rivers.

Tauck River Cruises: The responses to my questions from Tauck seemed more specific than those provided by other lines, despite a stated desire to keep matters of security measures confidential.

Tauck has contracted with a firm in Germany to place a security agent on each of its vessels this year and the next. On Tauck river boats, all exterior doors are locked "at all times" when the ship is in any port. Guests can only gain access by scanning a personalized photo keycard.

There is some controversy about the use of photo ID scanners on ships. Those that are reviewed by crew are subject to counterfeiting and picture replacement. Or someone who wishes to board a ship can just try to look as similar to the person in the photo as possible to gain entrance.

Tauck uses the preferred method: storing guest photos electronically and checking against those photos when they swipe their cards. No guest, according to a Tauck spokesperson, can reboard a ship in port unless imaging is used to verify the identity of the guest. Staff provides regular evening patrols, and every stateroom on Tauck has a red emergency contact button.

Uniworld: The response from Uniworld was a bit different than others I received. The company said that its own surveys had shown that better and more visible security was a concern of their guests, so they implemented a new policy in 2016, whereby a security guard is stationed at the entrance on every Uniworld ship to ensure that those coming aboard belong there.

Staff is always positioned at the bottom of the stairs, checking IDs. Uniworld does not have armed security personnel onboard but said it does have a security team on duty 24 hours a day monitoring all comings and goings. In fact, European law would generally forbid the employment of armed guards on river ships, so the guest may assume that local police would be called in to handle any serious threat.

Viking River Cruises: With explosive growth over the past decade and slightly more than a 50% share of U.S. passengers cruising in Europe, Viking River is the de facto benchmark when it comes to river cruise vacations for Americans.

Viking, more than most lines, was hesitant to talk about security issues. But we were able to discuss the line's policies with company staff, provided we did not use their names.

Viking has an undercover security team on each vessel. An ID card issued to disembarking guests must be returned when the guest wishes to reboard. There is a Viking staff member in the ship's entryway making certain that identity cards are returned.

When ships tie up in port, Viking staff and their security detail monitors walk-throughs by other ships' passengers. Viking tries to tie up to its own sister ships whenever "multiple berthing" -- i.e., walking through one or two ships to get to yours -- is required.

Even when two Viking ships are together, security staff are monitoring the passageways. No one can "linger" or go beyond the reception area when passing through. The security staff, I was told, is present in the atrium and reception areas at all times and at the base of the stairs that take guests to other parts of the ship.

So we have the responses from each of the major river cruise lines carrying Americans in Europe. Let me make some observations about what I have learned:

• It is generally illegal for a river boat to carry armed security officers on the major rivers in Europe.

• Tauck is the only company that specifically references the employment of a dedicated, professional noncrew security officer on each of its ships.

• The terms "security team" and "crew" are in many cases interchangeable, suggesting some crew security training. But since this is, as one line put it, "classified information we are surprised you are asking for," specifics regarding who these security officers really are and the level of training they receive is really unknown.

Given the number of jobs and doubling up of responsibilities typical of contracted crew on river ships in Europe, we wonder how many members of a security team or detail are actually handling these responsibilities on a full-time basis.

• There have been some major improvements in the level of security offered by heavily populated destinations like Amsterdam and Paris. Armed security personnel routinely patrol the port areas where river boats dock. But in the smaller cities and towns along Europe's rivers, a police presence along the pier or quay is generally nonexistent. While some U.S. passengers seem to feel they want and need greater protection, this does not appear to be the perception of towns along the rivers, many of which have limited resources.

• In some ways, security on a river ship is analogous to its onboard medical care. There is no doctor onboard, and there may be limited security onboard. But every crew member knows how to summon a doctor or local law enforcement should the need arise. They even have their home numbers at the front desk.

I started this survey because a surprising number of my clients told me they might not take another river cruise because of a perceived lack of security. I don't know if I have helped create any sense of comfort with what I have written.

It is a fact, I know, that my clients are more likely to die from a television set falling on them than from a terrorist attack abroad. They are far more likely to die from a bathtub or shower fall than from all the terrorist acts in Europe last year.

Still, perception can sometimes be misleading. I remember the famous "60 Minutes" piece on the safety of El Al, the Israeli airline considered one of the safest airlines in the world. As correspondent Steve Kroft walked through Ben Gurion Airport with its director of security services, he wondered, "Why am I not seeing security in this airport?"

The Israeli security director responded, "Steve, you're not supposed to see security. But raise your hand in a threatening manner and you will quickly meet them."
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