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Our Approach to Risk Management

Semester at Sea understands there is an inherent risk in international travel (and any worthwhile endeavor!) Awareness of these risks is the first step in mitigating and managing. We take this responsibility seriously and place great emphasis on preventative measures, training and education and key partnerships. Ways that we mitigate and manage for risk:

Smart Itinerary Planning

Our operations team at ISE works closely with the ship’s management company and Captain to plan itineraries that meet Semester at Sea’s programmatic mission while prioritizing voyager health and safety and operational considerations such as: weather and ocean current patterns, refueling, provisioning and responsible disposal of waste opportunities, and back-up contingency port options. Smart itinerary planning from the start increases the likelihood voyages are able to be completed as originally designed.

Ship Design, Maintenance, and Compliance

Voyagers travel aboard the MV World Odyssey, a ship held to the highest international standards for ocean travel. The MV World Odyssey meets the International Maritime Organization’s SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) requirements, including requirements for lifeboats, rescue boats and life jackets for every soul onboard.

Semester at Sea partners with several entities that are experts in ship-based travel. These partners oversee all policies, regulations, inspections, trainings, international regulatory compliance, and general vessel operations. The MV World Odyssey is required to be in complete compliance with the International Maritime Organization, the Maritime Labor Convention, and all flag-state and insurance provider requirements. (These governing bodies oversee items such as: the vessel’s routine maintenance inspection and equipment replacement schedules; crew regulation and hiring and training; expectations for personal protection equipment, adherence to regulations around type of fuel, environmentally-responsible disposal of waste, etc.)

Additionally, the MV World Odyssey is required to be in compliance with all port state control health inspection regulations and requirements prior to arrival in each country.  (Port state control is the inspection of foreign ships in national ports to verify that the condition of the ship and its equipment complies with the requirements of international conventions and that the ship is manned and operated in compliance with these rules.)

Learn more about the MV World Odyssey.

Communication Tools

  • Ship Communication Capabilities: The Captain and Officers have access to state-of-the-art communication tools including but not limited to satellite telephones, internet, and robust weather forecasting systems that assist with planning and risk mitigation. Learn more about health and safety while at sea.
  • On-Call Staff: One member of ISE’s Senior Leadership Team is on-call at all times throughout the duration of a voyage. Additionally, while the ship is in port, the Voyage Leadership Team and the ship’s health team (medical and mental health) is on-call 24/7 to support voyagers as needed.
  • Safey App: Semester at Sea partners with SAFEY to provide a smartphone 2-way communication app. While the ship is in port, participants using the app are able to:
    • Receive alerts and text messages regarding high-level threats or security events currently happening in while in-country, and advice on what to do.
    • Call or send an “SOS” alert to a Semester at Sea administrators sharing exact GPS location.
    • Share GPS location with other voyagers.
    • Contact local police, ambulance services, or Semester at Sea administrators.

Right people, right place, right time!

Effectively managing and mitigating risk requires partnership with each individual onboard and starts well before each voyage begins.

This starts with the hiring of the Voyage Leadership Team. This team comprises professionals from academic affairs and student affairs, as well as operations and medical personnel. Together this team leads the voyage with support and collaboration from the ISE home office. This Voyage Leadership Team participates in a comprehensive training program with ISE for nearly one year in advance of the semester.

In addition to the teaching faculty and academic support staff, Semester at Sea hires and trains a full student life team and medical and mental health professionals (around 50 faculty/staff each semester.) All faculty and staff are experienced professionals in their respective fields and are trained in the unique aspects of our shipboard campus in the months leading up to the voyage and during an intensive in-person training in the days prior to participant embarkation.

All voyagers are required to pass a comprehensive medical evaluation prior to the voyage and agree to the code of conduct and voyager’s handbook policies. Once onboard, voyagers participate in an intensive program orientation where they are briefed on the important role they play in helping to create a safe voyage, among other key programmatic elements.

Voyagers are held accountable to all policies outlined in the Voyager’s Handbook. Violations to polices are taken very seriously and can result in expulsion from the program.

Every person has a role to play in helping to create a safe voyage experience.

Medical Travel Insurance

Semester at Sea partners with Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI), to provide robust medical support services no matter where the ship is in the world. Through our partnership with CISI, Semester at Sea has access to worldwide medical resources, expert medical advice, world-class security and intelligence briefings and evacuation coordination and emergency response support 24/7. All voyagers are automatically enrolled in this plan at no extra cost. Semester at Sea pays for coverage from embarkation to disembarkation. Voyagers choosing to continue traveling outside their home country after disembarkation are encouraged to purchase a separate travel insurance policy.

Policy Exclusions: Voyagers are encouraged to read the full policy and consider purchasing additional coverage for items not included such as trip interruption/ cancellation if desired. Make note of policy exclusions, specifically the high-risk activities of mountaineering, hang gliding, parachuting/skydiving, parasailing, bungee jumping or racing by horse or motor vehicle/motorcycle. Accidents and injury caused by these activities are NOT covered and therefore emergency medical care and repatriation home will not be available through this policy should voyagers make the poor decision to engage in these activities. (This is also considered a violation of program policy.)

This policy provides travel insurance benefits for individuals traveling outside of their home country. This policy does not constitute comprehensive health insurance coverage (often referred to as “major medical coverage”) and does not satisfy a U.S. citizen’s individual obligation to secure the requirement of minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Voyagers should NOT cancel any existing major medical coverage. 

Emergency Response Preparedness

ISE has a critical incident response plan in place that calls into action the various resources within the Institute and partners. Some key partners and resources include (but are not limited to):

  • All U.S. passport holders are automatically enrolled in the U.S. State Department’s Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). (Voyager’s of other nationalities are encouraged to sign up for similar programs from their home countries.)
  • Through our contract with CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International), Semester at Sea receives medical capability briefings for each country prior to arrival from AXA Assistance. These briefings provide lists of preferred medical facilities that indicate they have been vetted by their local representatives to provide quality and reliable care.
  • CISI’s contracted security partner, WorldAware, provides private intelligence and security briefings to Semester at Sea and provides 24/7 assistance should a security-related issue arise.
  • In the event of an incident onboard, we have established contacts and response protocols utilizing a coordinated international network of Maritime Rescue/Joint Rescue Command Centres in all coastal countries around the world. This international network responds to any urgent need or emergency encountered while at sea (medical, safety or vessel-related) by Coast Guard or naval ship, helicopter, or other designated vessel.
  • Pre-established relationships with U.S. Embassies in each country provide assistance and support for consular, diplomatic or emergency needs.
  • Contact information for U.S. Embassies, local emergency numbers, and preferred medical facilities are provided to all voyagers on the “green sheet” (printed handout given to all voyagers and distributed digitally.)

Evaluation, Feedback and Reporting

An open feedback loop is an important part of mitigating future risk. All voyagers are encouraged to submit incident reports for anything of concern both on the ship and in port (accessible via the ship’s intranet and online.) The Semester at Sea health, safety, and security strategies are continuously evaluated in consultation with key partners. Improvements are made regularly to adapt to the changing needs of our program. After major incidents, a post-crisis review is conducted to determine ways in which the incident might have been avoided or better managed.

Semester at Sea submits crime statistics to Colorado State University to be included in their annual campus security report.

Our international shipboard campus, the MV World Odyssey, is subject to the health and safety provisions of SOLAS (International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea) and the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. For example, the Captain must report certain types of crimes directly to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as other reporting bodies.

In-Country Travel Planning & Resources

Time spent in-country presents more risk and variables outside our control than the time spent at sea. As a result, Semester at Sea devotes many resources to helping voyagers plan and prepare for their time in port. Prior to embarkation voyagers are provided an “in-country planning guide” ( see example) and are encouraged to come to the ship with a rough plan for each country. Once onboard, Student Life staff work with students to review their plans and host programs that help connect like-minded voyagers.  See “Health and Safety on Land” for more information.

Knowledge is Power!

Prior to arrival in each country, ISE administrators consolidate all updated health, safety and security briefings and recommendations obtained from various resources including but not limited to: U.S. State Department, WHO, CDC, Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) and their contracted intelligence and medical partners. This “just-in-time” updated information is provided to the Voyage Leadership Team to share with the shipboard community. Information is shared in presentation format during a mandatory “Pre-Port” meeting and key information is provided in writing on the “Green Sheet” (emergency contact information, key reminders, logistical information about ship’s location, etc.)  These mandatory community-wide meetings provide voyagers with specific details about the health, safety and security risks and any specific Semester at Sea policies or expectations related to the upcoming destination. Attendance is mandatory and as such all voyagers are expected to be there. If for some reason they are unable to attend, arrangements will be made for them to watch the presentation before disembarking in port.

Empowering Participants

While Semester at Sea does everything it can to reduce and mitigate risk, we cannot completely eliminate or avoid all potential risks. Each participant and their families are encouraged to do their own research and come to their own conclusions about their comfort level with the various risks inherent to international and ship-based travel. Emergency medical evacuations are available in all ports of call, however, in more remote areas of any country, medical attention and evacuations may be unavailable or not close-by. The quality of medical care and emergency response transport may not be at the same standard as your home country. Additionally, in remote areas of any country, cell phone service and internet may be inconsistent or unavailable. Semester at Sea provides information about medical capabilities in each country within the MyVoyage portal accessible during the preparatory phase. While on the ship, health and safety information can also be accessed through the ship’s intranet, “Homeport”.

Notice of Captain's Duty to Report

The MV World Odyssey must comply with the  U.S. Cruise Vessel Security Act of 2010. This act addresses the following:

On international voyages that embark or disembark in the United States, or on those voyages where an incident takes place on high seas or in foreign waters if the assailant or victim is a U.S. national, the Captain is required to report onboard serious felonies, including homicide, suspicious death, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, sexual assaults as defined by federal laws, firing or tampering with the vessel, or theft of money or property in excess of $10,000 as well as missing U.S. nationals to the F.B.I. by telephone as soon as possible, to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security electronically, and to the U.S. Coast Guard in writing. The F.B.I. can assert criminal jurisdiction in all of these circumstances. Each of the nations visited, as well as the vessel’s nation of registry, may also assert jurisdiction and/or impose additional reporting requirements.

Participants are reminded (at orientation, by routine communication channels, and in the health, safety, and security binder found in each cabin) to immediately report any missing person, injuries, or possibly unsafe or illegal behavior to the Reception Desk. Additionally, medical emergencies and requests for medical assistance should also be reported immediately to the Reception Desk which functions like a 911 call in these circumstances.  Participant’s cooperation in reporting unsafe or possibly illegal behavior is of great assistance to the security staff and/or medical personnel in responding to the situation in an efficient manner.