The answer has turned out to be cruising. A holiday once thought to be the preserve of the rich, blue-rinse crowd, has been turned into a cheap, popular way of spending time at sea drinking and partying. At first the companies which rushed to cater to this market worked out itineraries which included a Pacific Island or two.
But then they realised that all their customers really wanted was a trip in the sun with duty-free alcohol and a crowd of like-minded hedonists. As writer Gwyn Topham puts it: "Australians lead the pack in redefining cruising as a pursuit for the young and drunk; less blue rinse and more blue movie."
Although the British company P&O, the leader in the cruise field, firmly denies that it does what has become known as "booze cruises", the evidence suggests otherwise. One cruise which left Sydney recently got only as far as the open sea when it made an unscheduled stop for the police to take off a drunken man who had assaulted a female crew member and a security guard. And an inquest into the death of a 42 year-old mother who died on the first night of her cruise heard that she might have been given the "rape" drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
Globally the cruise industry has been reeling with horror stories. Passengers have disappeared without trace, presumed to have fallen overboard. On Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary II, passengers mutinied when it failed to follow the advertised itinerary. P&O’s liner Aurora wandered around the Mediterranean with hundreds of sick passengers on board after it was refused permission to dock by countries which were worried that the illness might spread to their own citizens. Off Somalia, pirates shot rocket-propelled grenades at the liner Seabourn Spirit. A Congressional hearing in Washington earlier this year was told that 24 people had disappeared from cruise ships in the past three years and an FBI assistant director gave evidence that the FBI had opened files on 305 cases on the high seas in the past five years. He also said that because the question of jurisdiction is often unclear, many on-board crimes were simply not reported. Yet as Topham writes: "The appetite for cruising grows unabated. In Finland a $1 billion liner is under construction that will dwarf all its rivals.
Globally the number of people taking a cruise rises by eight per cent a year and a record 11.7 million passenger will board a cruise ship in 2006. It’s a scale that makes crime, disease and death practically unavoidable-let alone the unwanted attentions of drunken men." Topham has been trying to find out what the attraction of modern cruising is by interviewing some of the passengers, promising them anonymity. A 19 year-old Australian girl told her: "I’m a serial cruiser. All my work pay goes on saving for my next cruise. The attractions are the food, the entertainment, the escapism and the party atmosphere. And it’s cheap. A berth for a short cruise costs as little as $500 including all food and entertainment. This cruise is only for three days but I’m not going to sleep so it feels like six days."
Another girl told Topham that the young girls who go on cruises do not do so specifically looking for sex. But she added that she had had more than one partner on her last cruise —"You know. You have a couple of drinks and then..." It is hard not to conclude that some of the charges which Islamic fundamentalists make against the West --immodesty and loose morals —have some basis in fact.
Phillip Knightley is a veteran British journalist based in London
Given the accelerating spread of AMR and the long lead-in time to develop antibiotics, we can’t afford to continue overlooking the problem.