What Should We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

When people find out I spent twelve years working on cruise ships, a series of fairly inevitable questions arise:

  • Where is your favourite place? I say Singapore, then go into an anecdote about how chewing gum is illegal there.
  • Did you get seasick? Not really, but motion sickness tablets will do the job for almost everyone who is worried
  • Is there anywhere you haven’t been? Pretty much anywhere landlocked.

A more interesting question is ‘where is the brig’? To clarify, a brig is usually on a warship, a cell into which drunken sailors are thrown to stop them causing trouble.

In international waters, the captain is king. Whatever he/she says goes. Many people are incensed that their domestic rules don’t count here and think the rules should be either stricter or much less strict depending on wherever they are from. Smoking is a good example of this, passengers who come from places with few smoking laws want to be able to smoke anywhere they like. Other people who come from places with very tight restrictions on tobacco argue the entire ship should be smoke free. To navigate this, there are usually designated smoking areas in out of the way places so both smokers and non-smokers can be annoyed equally.

The ships all have an onboard security team. Their main responsibility is to keep undesirable people and objects from gaining entry. I wonder if some of the breeches I encountered would still happen today:

  • The stowaways who came onboard while a large coach party distracted everyone’s attention. They slept on the open deck and were only discovered two days later.
  • The workmen who confidently stole a grand piano, taking it through the cargo doors during a dry dock, everyone assumed they were working on it.
  • The person who didn’t like the photo on his security pass so took the barcode to a Home Depot and simply made himself a new one. This case went to the desk of the Vice President who was amazed it was so easy.

Depending on the cruise, another set of security problems is that of people who are drunk and disorderly. People who have thrown punches or caused damage are not taken to the brig (there isn’t one) but to an empty cabin. This cabin will be one that is unsellable. It has probably had a burst pipe or electrical fault that remains unfixed. It will do for the disorderly. Then security sit outside all night to stop them leaving and they are handed over to the police of the next port we go to, along with the relevant CCTV footage.

The ‘next port we go to’ can be a real mixed bag. If it is somewhere with an established legal process where many people speak English, they will be fine. However, if it is somewhere riskier, they are on their own. The cruise line will not do anything to help. Even getting home could be a costly and difficult process, let alone the legal problems they find themselves in. It is better to just behave.

Of course, the other group we need to consider are the crew members. Working 60-70 hours per week, means there is very little time to get into trouble. Perhaps the most obvious exemption is ‘banned substances’. To tackle this, random drug tests are undertaken every six weeks, these tests pick up everything so trips to a local pharmacy can lead to danger. Apparently, the reason for all this testing is not anything to do with welfare or safety but because it allows the company to pay a lower insurance premium.

Security incidents at sea are thankfully very rare (at least those involving cruise ships). One more thing to note is pirates which are still very active in the waters of East Africa and can be a worry to ships travelling through the Suez. Pirates don’t generally attack cruise liners, they are too big, travel too fast and have too many people inside. That doesn’t stop us from doing pirate drills. Essentially these involve shutting off the outdoor music and closing all the curtains. I can imagine this would be enough to foil the pirates ‘I just can’t find that ship now the curtains are closed, let’s go home instead’.


2 thoughts on “What Should We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

  1. I’ve never been on a cruise, but from what I’ve heard, alcoholic beverages are very expensive and there are restrictions on how much you can bring on board with you. Getting drunk enough to end up in trouble must cost a fortune!


    1. This is a great point Suzanne. I think drunk passengers have normally either smuggled in their own bottles or come back drunk from port. For crew members, there is a heavily subsidised bar (often $1 per drink) and the crew bar always made more money than the full price passenger bars which is why the cruise lines are reluctant to change it despite the obvious problems that causes…


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