Do Cruise Ships Have Jails? A Look Inside the Brig

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Security staff with the walkie-talkie from the back patrolling cruise ship Pacific Princess

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When setting sail on a cruise, passengers expect sun, sea, and relaxation. However, just like any small town, incidents requiring law and order can occur.

Passenger safety and security are serious matters for cruise lines. Minimizing passenger disturbances and handling crime are just a few of the responsibilities of operating cruise ships.

Cruise ships are equipped with detention facilities, commonly called brigs. The name ‘brig’ has historical nautical roots, stemming from the type of ship once used to detain sailors.

Keep reading to learn more about cruise ship jail and how cruise lines handle crimes at sea.

Do Cruise Ships Have Jails?

A cruise ship jail with a toilet and sink in an empty roomPin

Yes. Cruise ships have small jails onboard, known as the “brig.”

When imagining your dream cruise, the thought of jails on the ship probably doesn’t cross your mind. Like any small city, a cruise ship encompasses all facets of community living, including provisions for safety and security.

Cruise ship jails are used to detain passengers or crew members who may have committed a crime or pose a serious threat to themselves or others on board.

The brig is a secure, locked room or set of rooms where individuals are temporarily held. Think of it like a detention area designed to manage exceptional situations that might arise during your voyage.

The existence of jails on cruise ships might seem surprising, but they ensure a safe environment for all passengers and crew.

Although cruise lines have jails on their ships, their intention isn’t to hold people for long periods. Cruise lines only use the jail as a last resort.

If a severe law infraction or a threat to safety occurs, the person involved may be confined to the brig. The jail’s purpose is not punishment but containment and safety until the ship reaches a port where the appropriate authorities can intervene.

It’s worth noting that while brigs exist, their use is not a standard part of the cruising experience. Most cruise lines are discreet about these facilities to avoid unnecessary alarm and worry. Your time on a cruise ship is intended to be enjoyable and carefree. The presence of these security measures helps to maintain that atmosphere.

The offending person is kept under cabin arrest when the cruise ship jail cannot be used. A security guard is posted outside the passenger’s cabin to prevent them from leaving.

Why Are Cruise Ship Jails Called Brigs?

The term “brig” originates in maritime history and is traditionally associated with naval vessels rather than commercial or leisure ships like cruise liners.

Historically, a brigantine was a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. These sailing ships were often used to transport prisoners. The prisoners were kept on the lower deck, which came to be known as the brig.

As nautical engineering evolved, the term “brig” stuck around and refers to the jail on a ship.

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A brigantine is a small, two-masted ship with large, square sails.

Today, the term brig is most commonly used to describe the jails on a naval or military ship. If a Navy or Coast Guard sailor breaks the law, they will be “thrown in the brig.”

The term brig is not commonly used in the cruising industry. However, it is a fun nautical cruise ship term.

What Is A Cruise Ship Brig Like?

A security guard standing next to the Virgin Voyages logo on the cruise ship Scarlet LadyPin

As you might expect, a cruise ship jail is pretty basic. They’re usually a small room with a bed, toilet, and maybe a shower.

The “brig” is in crew-only areas on the lower decks. It’s a small, secure room intended to detain passengers or crew members who have broken the law or pose a risk to others’ safety on board.

The design of a cruise ship jail is similar to modern jail cells.

Though an important security measure, brigs are seldom used, as most cruise experiences are incident-free.

Why Would a Guest be Placed in The Jail of a Cruise Ship?

View from the pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise ship Pearl with live dj in the backgroundPin

Passengers may be placed in a cruise ship’s jail or brig for several reasons. The decision to detain a passenger is left to the security team and cruise ship captain.

Safety and security are paramount on cruise ships to ensure the well-being of passengers and crew. Passengers are only detained in the ship’s jail if they pose a severe threat to the vessel or its passengers.

Here are some common scenarios that might lead to a passenger being detained:

  1. Violent Behavior: Engaging in fights, assaults, or any form of violent behavior towards other passengers or crew members.
  2. Theft or Vandalism: Stealing from other passengers, crew members, or the cruise line itself or causing deliberate damage to the ship’s property.
  3. Excessive Intoxication: While alcohol consumption is common on cruise ships, excessively intoxicated passengers who become disruptive or pose a risk to themselves or others may be detained.
  4. Non-Compliance with Safety Protocols: Ignoring safety procedures or engaging in behavior that endangers the ship’s and its occupants’ safety.
  5. Sexual Harassment or Assault: Any form of sexual misconduct is taken very seriously and can result in immediate detainment.
  6. Threatening Behavior: Making threats or engaging in behavior perceived as threatening the ship’s and its passengers’ security.
  7. Smuggling Prohibited Items: Attempting to bring prohibited items onboard, such as certain weapons, drugs, or illegal substances. Cruise lines list prohibited items you can’t take on cruise ships. If you’re caught bringing contraband on board the vessel, the security team may put you in jail.

Each cruise line has its security team trained to handle various situations, ensuring appropriate measures are taken when a law is broken. 

The ship’s captain or senior security personnel are the ultimate authority and decide when to detain a passenger in the brig. Detaining a passenger or crew member is a decision not taken lightly.

People are detained in the ship’s jail or placed under cabin arrest to maintain order and safety onboard until the ship reaches a port where local authorities can take over, if necessary. The procedures for handling such incidents are governed by the cruise line’s policies, international maritime law, and the flag state under which the ship is registered.

Safety and Security Measures on Cruise Ships

Security Guards on the gangwayPin

Cruise lines employ various safety and security measures to ensure a safe and enjoyable cruise vacation. Guest security supervisors and trained crew members are vigilant in maintaining a secure environment.

Your safety starts even before you set sail. As you board, your belongings go through a careful screening process to prevent illegal and prohibited items from getting on the cruise ship.

Onboard Security Measures:

  • Security personnel: Trained in various safety protocols and crime deterrence.
  • Surveillance cameras: Monitoring public areas for your safety.
  • Restricted access: Maintaining a secure area just for crew operations is crucial.
  • Passenger safety drills: All cruise ships perform a mandatory muster drill on embarkation day to ensure guests’ preparedness in emergencies.
  • Regular crew drills: Crew members regularly perform emergency drills to prepare for unexpected events.

Passenger safety is a top priority, and the ship’s crew is trained to manage various emergencies. Crew members perform regular safety drills to prepare for the unexpected.

Safety drills are performed on port days. You’ll hear an announcement alerting the crew to an emergency drill. I’ve heard announcements for fire drills, medical drills, security threats, and responding to man overboard situations.

Which Crimes Happen Most Often at Sea?

Security guard watching video monitoring surveillance security systemPin

Most security issues onboard cruise ships involve minor cases of public intoxication, theft, and physical altercations. Crimes on cruise ships are exceptionally low compared to similar crimes on land (CLIA Crime Report).

Crew members receive training to manage incidents, prevent escalation, and minimize the effect on other passengers. The goal is to create a safe environment.

Of course, free-flowing alcohol and subsequent intoxication can cause more severe crimes.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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