Yacht Crime Summit Says
Collaboration is Key
It was a first for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States - to hold talks on the topic of safety and security for yachts. At Coco Resorts, St. Lucia, on December 15, 2006, law enforcement and tourism officials from eight island nations and territories met with representatives of the visiting cruising community for a brainstorming session designed to lead to official decisions.
Late last year, in the midst of escalating concerns about yacht security, the October 2006 issue of Caribbean Compass featured an article entitled "Combating Crime Against Yachts", which quoted cruiser Klaus Nenn: "We do not feel safe. The number one reason is not the crime, or the threat of crime, it's that there is no visible program, no assurance by governments, no policy in place in respect to cruisers' safety I do not see myself being protected by any Caribbean country's government while cruising."
The OECS, a group of nine English-speaking states cooperating on defense issues, international diplomacy and economic policies, promptly responded by inviting Cuthbert Didier, general manager of the Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia, to make a presentation to its Council of Tourism Ministers meeting being held that same month. That presentation focused on the economic significance of the yachting industry to the OECS, provided an overview of crimes against the yachting community across the OECS and their impact on the yachting industry, and proposed recommendations to reduce such crime.
Among the Tourism Ministers' recommendations was: "as a matter of urgency, to convene a meeting between law enforcement agencies and yachting industry representatives in interested OECS Member States, to agree on a collaborative approach to effectively address safety concerns in the sector" Two months later, this meeting took place and OECS Director General Dr. Len Ishmael stated in her opening address, "Now is not the time for denial. It is time to put in place partnerships and mechanisms Crime in any one spot affects us all."
Delegations from OECS member states present at the December meeting were: Antigua & Barbuda - Nigel Benjamin, Marine Development Officer, Ministry of Tourism; and Wilhelm Samuels, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Royal Antigua & Barbuda Police Force. BVI - Janis Braithwaite-Edwards, Director of Tourism, and Jenel Lettsome, Senior Product Officer, BVI Tourist Board; Sean Durrant, Marine Security Manager, BVI Port Authority; Dean Fahie, Assistant Commissioner of Customs, Customs Department; and Duncan E. Williams, Police Inspector, Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. Dominica - Benoit Bardouille, General Manager, Dominica Port Authority; Patricia Linton, Marketing Officer, National Development Corporation; and Clement Pierre-Louis, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dominica Police Force. Grenada - Asquith Duncan, Head of Product Development & Customer Services, Grenada Board of Tourism; and Anthony John Joseph, Police Officer, Royal Grenada Police Force. Montserrat - Margaret Lee, Police Officer, Royal Montserrat Police; and Shawn O'Garro, Port Superintendent, Montserrat Port Authority. St. Kitts & Nevis - Spencer Hanley, General Manager, Nevis Air & Sea Ports Authority; Denzil Jones and Rosevelt Trotman, Managers, St. Christopher Air & Sea Ports Authority; and Tyrone O'Flaherty, Permanent Secretary of Tourism, Nevis. St. Lucia - Keats Compton, President, and Lynne Glascoe, Board Member. Marine Industries Association of St. Lucia and Caribbean Marinas Association; Andre Cox, Superintendent, Royal St. Lucia Police Force; Kennedy Francis, Chief of Port Police, St. Lucia Air & Sea Ports Authority; and Lyndel Danzie-Black and Darrell Montrose of the Board of Tourism. St. Vincent & the Grenadines - Lenroy A Brewster, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Royal St. Vincent & the Grenadines Police Force; Bernard Dick, Customs Officer, Customs Department; and Faylene Scrubb, Tourism Planner, Ministry of Tourism.
The cruising community was represented by Melodye Pompa, Net Controller, Caribbean Safety & Security Net; Sydney Curtis and Barbara Vincent of the Cruisers Working Group; and Lance Batten, Tito Figueroa, and Ray Goodwin. All are originally from the USA. Also present was Compass editor, Sally Erdle.
Dr. Ishmael noted the need to identify the root causes of crime against yachts, highlighting that the geography that gives the Eastern Caribbean "the best sailing in the world" also places it along major drug transshipment routes - where criminal activity increasingly affects those both ashore and afloat. While acknowledging that the OECS countries don't have the resources to stop narco-trafficking, she emphasized that there is concern at national levels because a thriving yacht sector is critical to socio-economic development.
Cuthbert Didier gave a presentation based on the one he had given at the Tourism Ministers' meeting, showing that although yachting is the second most important form of tourism in the OECS, its strong economic potential is under threat from crime. Much of the data quoted was obtained from the Caribbean Safety & Security Net. He also outlined the Tourism Ministers' recommendations, which include having more visible law enforcement presence, better coordination of water-border patrols, government incentives to private sector entities to manage anchorages, installing VHF radios at coastal police stations, and a timely coordinated response to ALL reported crimes.
Later in the meeting, it was proposed that a report on the status of implementation of safety and security measures in the yachting sector be made a permanent item on the agenda of the OECS Council of Tourism Ministers meetings, and it was also decided that the OECS Secretariat would establish a working group on Yachting Safety and Security.
The BVI's 'Best Practices'
In the BVI, the yachting sector is perceived as being "owned" by the community and is protected as a valuable asset. Director of Tourism Janis Braithwaite-Edwards told the meeting that yachting has consistently accounted for about 70 percent of the BVI's total holiday visitors. Although the sector continues to grow, crime poses a major concern to both "yachties" and the local population. This, she said, makes safety and security in the yachting sector a top priority for the BVI.
She identified two major tools that the BVI employs in combating crime against yachts:
1) Strong interagency/government collaboration. The Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, The BVI Ports Authority, Her Majesty's Customs, The BVI Tourist Board, National Parks Trust, Marine Police and The Conservation and Fisheries Department have combined forces, creating a safe environment for visitors as well as locals.
2) Continual water patrols. To patrol the BVI's 1,330 square miles of territorial sea, the Marine Police have recently purchased new vessels to allow them to be at sea for days at a time. BVI Customs are also equipped with vessels and work in cooperation with the Police department and the US Coast Guard policing the waters surrounding the BVI, reporting any suspicious activities. The waters are patrolled day and night - there is always an on-water law enforcement presence. The local community is encouraged to be a part of the surveillance process and local fishermen also assist by reporting unusual activities to law enforcement.
It was related that in the BVI, the CID responds to ALL crime reports from yachts, and patrol vessels and "go fast" boats are on hand to proceed to the scene of the crime. Police Inspector Williams emphasized, "We treat every yacht report seriously."
At one popular anchorage where outboard thefts had been a problem, the BVI Tourist Board Office took on the responsibility to hire a private security company to secure the area. In another case, a "sting operation" was put in place with Police, Customs and charter companies who provided yachts to stage a scene for perpetrators.
The BVI group also advocated enabling Police to be able to receive statements by e-mail, particularly when visitors are in the middle of their vacation far from a police station. It also cited the problem of visitors not wanting to return to the territory to provide evidence for the prosecution of perpetrators, and suggested that governments explore legislation to allow for evidence to be provided via video conferencing.
Collaboration and Commitment
Unifying the many specific recommendations coming out of the meeting was the overall one of collaboration. Echoing the BVI's reliance on interagency collaboration, Lynne Glascoe of MIASL's Safety and Security Committee reported her association's powerful inclusion of representatives of all relevant government agencies, as well as the private sector. Faylene Scrubb of the SVG Ministry of Tourism noted that the SVG Recreational Marine Trades Association has been a great help in patrolling anchorages. Patricia Linton, Marketing Officer in Dominica's National Development Corporation, summed up her nation's attitude as "one family".
Where in-country collaboration exists, it works well, and the concept was brought forward of wider collaboration between OECS member states and their French and Dutch island neighbors, to establish a unified and consistent approach toward yacht crime. There is now increased collaboration between public and private sector agencies across Grenada (including Carriacou) and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, including the port authorities and the coast guard. The meeting learned that the French islands' authorities are considering setting up a comprehensive safety and security system, which, if a similar system were to be adopted by the Eastern Caribbean, could underpin most of the initiatives discussed at this meeting.
After the meeting, cruiser Ray Goodwin said, "There is great interest by the people involved for the security and safety of boating people. It's good to have the dialogue and for people to express their views and collaborate." Melodye Pompa later commented, "I think there was a real commitment among those participants to go home with a renewed purpose to start putting plans in place. The best proof of that was the next morning, when, as I was waiting for my plane, I saw the commissioners of police of Dominica, the BVI and St. Vincent & the Grenadines arrive by taxi together, obviously continuing a conversation which began the previous day after the formal meeting was adjourned." And Dominica's Deputy Commissioner of Police Clement Pierre-Louis spoke for everyone when he said, "We cannot let a handful of people dictate that we cannot be secure on our yachts or in our homes. We must win the fight."
Copyright© 2007 Compass Publishing