Combating Crime Against Yachts
The frequency of crimes committed against people aboard yachts in the cruising ground comprising the Eastern Caribbean and Venezuela appears to be on the rise. It is difficult to know if this is actually so, or to what extent. Although anecdotal evidence abounds, comprehensive statistics are hard to come by.
Is It Hot Or Not?
On one hand, communication technology has improved, and we now hear about incidents throughout the sub-region almost as they occur, as opposed to years ago when a robbery in St. Thomas might never be heard of by yachties in Grenada. Certainly there were crimes against yachts in the past. Are there very many more crimes now, some ask, or do we just hear about more of them these days? And, of course, there are now more yachts for stories to be told about.
On the other hand, there may be more crimes against yachts than we realize. The only group we know of which has been compiling reports over recent years of crimes against yachtspeople regionally is the hard-working Caribbean Safety & Security Net, whose database can be seen at www.caribcruisers.com/security. Net controller Melodye Pompa has issued the caveat that this data reflects only crimes reported directly to the Net. Not all yachting visitors who are victims of crime make reports to the Net. Bareboats commonly do not have SSB radios, so they cannot radio in their reports unless there is a yacht nearby with such a radio. Also, the Net is conducted in English, so many foreign-language speakers who have been victims of crime do not report to the Net. Therefore, the actual incidence of crimes against yachts is no doubt higher than Net statistics indicate.
Where It's Not So Hot
Among seasoned cruisers, distinctions are made between individual islands, and even different anchorages, as to where is "high risk" and where is "safe". They routinely avoid any known hot-spots, and plan to spend their time in places where crimes are infrequently reported.
A look at the tables of island-by-island crime reports at www.caribcruisers.com will yield numbers which are useful - to some extent. Some examples chosen at random: between the start of 2003 and the middle of 2006, there were 59 crime reports from Margarita, 44 from St. Lucia, 20 from Grenada, 20 from Trinidad and none from Saba or Montserrat. However, these tallies do not take into account factors such as popularity; Saba, for instance, has no all-weather anchorages so it is not frequently visited by yachts, while Margarita, out of the hurricane belt and duty-free, hosts a large cruiser colony. To learn actual crime rates, we would need to take into consideration the number of yachts visiting and based in each island. Also, we'd need to break some island tallies down by anchorages; e.g. virtually all of Margarita's reports came from Porlamar, but reports came from six separate locations in Grenada.
If we can generalize, so far the ABC islands, Los Roques, Las Aves, Guadeloupe and Martinique seem to be relatively blessed, and Antigua is not doing badly either. Stéphane Legendre says, "In Guadeloupe we do not hear about security issues at anchorages. We are lucky so far...."
From Barbados, Norman Faria writes: "I read with horror the upsurge in reports about crime against yachties in several areas. I must tell you that as far as Barbados goes, it appears (from the information available) that crime against yachties is minimal. Even stories of harassment are infrequent here, as there are, for example, no 'boat boys'." Note, however, that Barbados is visited mostly as a transatlantic landfall, and is off the usual cruising routes.
Bonaire is unusual, too, in only having one yacht harbor, which is well policed. Former cruiser and now newspaperman in Bonaire, George De Salvo, says, "I've been hearing from cruisers passing through Bonaire of some of the extraordinary steps they've had to take to be safe while cruising the Southern Caribbean.
"Bonaire has taken no special steps to safeguard cruisers. Cruisers relax here and appear to abandon the safeguards they employ elsewhere. There have been thefts from moored boats, but they are a once or twice a year event. Every incident I'm aware of in the past few years was resolved with the quick apprehension of juvenile offenders.
"In line with 9/11-inspired port security upgrades, there is improved security in Kralendijk harbor by Customs, port captain and police, as well as a daily helicopter patrol. Since all visiting boats must moor in this harbor, they directly benefit."
Perception as Reality
While awaiting more complete statistical evidence, and regardless of the fact that crime is not universally rampant across the region, the perception among current and prospective boating visitors is that crime affecting sailors in the Caribbean is on the rise. And as cruiser Roger Webb notes, "with cruisers, perception often becomes reality."
The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is promoting the Eastern Caribbean sub-region as one cruising area under the slogan "Many Islands, One Sea" - an excellent unified marketing concept which has also been put forward by other entities including ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean). But the downside of the broad brush is that many newcomers, and potential or occasional visitors will not distinguish between current situations in different spots. It's a common failing: we've all seen headlines in overseas media announcing something like "Hurricane Devastates Caribbean" when the storm might have damaged only one or two islands (or parts thereof). When a Stateside sailing magazine once picked up a story about a spate of attacks on yachts along the north shore of the Peninsula of Paria, they gave it the headline "Yachts Warned to Avoid Venezuela" - the equivalent of warning yachts to avoid California due to a streak of incidents between San Diego and San Pedro. It is almost inevitable that we will see the headline "Caribbean Crime Wave" somewhere in the international yachting press. Unfair as it may be, incidents in St. Lucia or St. Vincent have an affect on Grenada. A short-lived crime spree in Trinidad (or to be exact, Chaguaramas) touches the Windwards. "Pirates of the Caribbean" - not "Pirates of This Particular Anchorage" - is grist for overseas media.
We've received several letters this year from cruisers who say they are not sailing any farther than Guadeloupe or Martinique, due to "the crime problem farther south". Others, including Klaus Nenn, have decided to abandon the whole Caribbean. And some, like Sue Simons, wonder - if we have to now lock ourselves behind bars at night - whether it's time to give up cruising entirely.
Klaus wrote: "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."
Since publishing Klaus's letter, we've received reports on the following islands' programs which are in place or being planned.
Awareness and Actions in Key Destinations
Everybody loves the "Nature Isle", but an armed boarding and robbery there earlier this year, which landed the skipper in hospital, was bad news, and 24 incidents were reported to the Net in a three-and-a-half-year period. What is being done?
Hubert J. Winston of the Dominica Yacht Club and the Dominica Marine Center (email@example.com) tells Compass: "Dominica is making strides in combating crime in general and more so, yacht crimes at its two major ports of entry - Portsmouth and Roseau.
"In Portsmouth, there are plans of introducing a security boat that will be manned by the Indian River Tour Guides Association and other involved parties, including Port Police, and supported by the Coast Guard, according to Jerome Leboubou and Andrew O'Brien of Cobra Tours. Meanwhile, the Indian River Tour Guides Association has organized the use of local water taxis to patrol the Portsmouth Bay area at nights to safeguard visiting yachts and their personnel. This initiative was started during the last yachting season and will continue to be in effect until the security boat has been introduced.
"In Roseau, the Dominica Marine Center, in collaboration with the Dominica Yacht Club and supported by Sea Cat Tours and Pancho Water Taxi, will introduce a security dinghy to patrol the Roseau south bay during the evenings."
The Dominica Yacht Club is also working on introducing a yacht welcome kit specially designed for the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and OECS-sponsored Eastern Caribbean Yacht Rally visiting yachts. As well as security information, the kit will include information on restaurants, provisioning, tours, entertainment, and other related businesses and activities around the island, and information about the island itself."
The violent attack on the crew of the yacht Aquarius in June got everyone's attention, although arrests were quickly made. How has St. Lucia reacted?
The Associated Press reported on August 31 that a new police unit will be assigned to protect tourists in St. Lucia after this and other high-profile attacks on foreigners. St. Lucia officials asked Britain earlier this year to help recruit police.
Meanwhile, association president Keats Compton reports: "The Marine Industries Association of St. Lucia (MIASL, www.miasl.org) wishes to assure cruisers of its total commitment to minimizing the incidence of crime in St. Lucia, whether against visitors or the local population. Naturally, our efforts will be targeted at the yachting community. MIASL believes that the private sector has been well ahead of the public sector in understanding the adverse impact that unabated criminal activity has on the viability of our tourism product. The private sector, headed by the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association (SLHTA), has been spearheading efforts to assist the Government of St. Lucia to establish a coherent set of policies and measures that will reassure visitors that St. Lucia cares about their safety - MIASL represents the yachting sector on the SLHTA's membership council.
"MIASL's concern for cruiser safety has been such that a Safety & Security Committee was established shortly after our launch last year, headed by Lynne Glasscoe of Discovery at Marigot Bay. The Committee comprises Regular, Marine and Ports Police; Customs; and MIASL. (This must have been the first time that these state agencies had met for any reason.) The Committee meets monthly, and seeks to advise the competent authority on measures to deter criminal activity. Among the measures being considered is how to fast track the due process on boats which have been detained, so that they may be used for patrolling our waters.
"Following Rodney Bay Marina's example of providing a patrol boat for use by the Ports Police at the Rodney Bay Seaport, the Marigot Bay Business Association (MBBA) is seeking to use that model, and have secured a RHIB for their area. The Committee has recommended that regular Police man that boat, as the Marigot Police Station is located on the bayfront. The MBBA awaits a response from the Commissioner of Police to that proposal. Details of the MIASL proposals are available at www.miasl.org/news.htm.
"Contributors to the patrol boat for the Rodney Bay area, which operates between 1800 and 0600 daily, include Island Marine Services, The Harbour, Island Water World and SOL petroleum.
"We are pleased to announce that MIASL member Cable & Wireless has agreed to provide emergency fixed lines, located at the Marine Police base at Castries Harbour, free of charge. An alarm is raised by dialing "HELP" (4357) from a cell phone or fixed line. Roaming cell phones will also be able access HELP. The service is up and running.
"We had hoped that Police Band radios could have been modified to monitor VHF channel 16 on dual watch, but this cannot be done. Consequently, stand-alone marine radios will be placed at Police stations at Gros Islet (Rodney Bay Marina), Marigot and Soufriere. Although Vieux Fort was not mentioned in our suggestions, Moule-a-Chique lighthouse already has a 24-hour watch on VHF channel 16, as does Vigie Light. Additionally, there is a Marine Police base at Vieux Fort, which will fit into the mix. There will therefore be a 24-hour channel 16 watch along St. Lucia's west coast at Moule-a-Chique, Vieux Fort, Soufriere, Marigot, Vigie Light, Marine Police Unit, and Gros Islet Police Station. Radios are being sourced for Police Stations and will be operational by end of October.
"An information brochure on St. Lucia's Customs and Immigration charges, which was distributed at the Antigua charter show last year, is being updated. It will now include safety tips, and will be placed at ports of entry. The safety info will be placed on a separate page on our website as the other information is already there. A French language version will be available from Customs in Marin, Martinique. These should be ready for distribution by early November. Graphic designs are being prepared for billboards at Port entrances where space permits, in time for the start of the upcoming season.
"We hope that Yamaha will agree to donate a two-seat jet-ski to the Marine Police as a quick-response vehicle. The Marine Police now detain any suspicious personal flotation devices which could be used to board yachts.
"There is a low awareness of the specifics of the economic importance of the contribution of the tourism sector in general, and of the yachting sector in particular, hence there is little sense of 'ownership'. The private sector has been successful in persuading the Ministry of Tourism to embark on a nationwide awareness campaign, which the MIASL will ensure contains a specific element on yachting. Additionally, the existing Strategic Plan for the Yachting Sector identified a need for training and accreditation of 'boat boys', which training will be completed before the start of the season. The 'boat boys' should then become a valuable support group for the industry, as opposed to being branded as nuisances.
"The SLHTA has retained a UK-based security consultant who has described our local situation as being 'manageable' - including maritime safety. The Government has welcomed the initiative, which, along with the imminent deployment of ten United Kingdom policemen, is expected to have a major impact on the abatement of crime here. The SLHTA was represented on the interview panel for the ten, and expressed satisfaction with the outcome; a new forensic lab is under construction, and Government has publicly acknowledged the need to have an appropriate approach to dealing with crime against visitors; the Government's National Crime Commission receives and incorporates data supplied by the Safety & Security Net into local statistics; MIASL/SLHTA and the St. Lucia Tourist Board are discussing the establishment of a permanent crisis management function, so that programmes for providing victim support, and visitor safety, for instance, can be institutionalized - the need for this was eloquently expressed in Compass's letter of the month for September by Klaus Nenn of S/Y Bellamar.
"On the regional front, the MIASL became aware that the Organisation of American States (OAS), through the Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) recently launched a series of training workshops for security managers in the tourism and recreational industries. MIASL met with the OAS to discuss MIASL/Caribbean Marine Association (CMA) participation in the third and final one in September, in St. Lucia.
"Finally, we believe that our industry needs to attract more local suppliers of goods and services, so that the feeling of ownership referred to above can become widely and firmly entrenched, which is the best protection that the industry can hope for. MIASL has suggested that the St. Lucia Government includes marine-related skills on the list of priority areas for receiving educational assistance. We have also sought permission from the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF) to air an informational DVD called "Navigate A Career" on national cable TV, designed to encourage new entrants into the industry. We hope that all of the foregoing will reassure the cruising community of the commitment which we referred to above, and our ability to make a difference."
ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES
SVG had the dubious distinction of having the greatest number of yacht-related crimes reported to the Safety & Security Net of any of the Lesser Antilles for the first half of 2006, including two armed robberies in one night. The 15 reported incidents were, however, spread among three Grenadine islands and two "mainland" anchorages. Several arrests were subsequently made. What else is being done?
Commissioner of Police (Ag.) Bertie K. Pompey tells Compass that "The Royal St. Vincent & the Grenadines Police Force, in our efforts to improve yacht security in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have taken the following initiatives:
· Embarked on a public sensitization programme to heighten awareness and alertness.
· Increased marine patrols in collaboration with the Coast Guard Service, for real time response.
· Expedited the investigation and prosecution process."
Commander Tyrone James tells us that the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Coast Guard has produced a useful brochure of advice for yacht owners and operators, which will soon be available at ports of entry. It includes a list of boaters' safety and security tips, notes on being part of a "Waterway Watch" for port security, and a list of emergency phone numbers. The brochure notes that we can all help fight crime on the water by not only making a report if we are victims of crime, but by taking notes ("who, what, where, when") and photos (if you can do so safely) of any suspected criminal activity, and sending these notes and photos to the Police (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Coast Guard (email@example.com). Commander James says, "I hope that we can work together to make the waters of St. Vincent and the Grenadines safe for everyone to enjoy."
In a second brochure being distributed by the SVG Coast Guard, boaters are advised that the VHF radio is the communication method of preference in an emergency, as area geography may limit or block a cell phone signal, a cell phone caller's location cannot be determined using radio direction finder, a cell call cannot be monitored by other boaters, and it may not be possible for cell callers to be contacted by the rescue boat or aircraft.
The St. Vincent & the Grenadines Recreational Marine Association (www.svgrma.com) has been recently formed by marine tourism stakeholders to provide members with a forum to focus on the betterment of the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Marine Tourism Sector.
SVGRMA Secretary Kay Wilson says, "Despite the 'newness' of the SVGRMA we have already been hard at work trying to address the issues affecting the Marine Tourism sector, primarily security issues. The Ministry of Tourism, along with the other agencies responsible for security, both land and sea based, are fully aware of the challenges that the yachting product has faced. These agencies also appreciate the importance of security to the well-being of our country's tourism sector."
Famous for its "forest of masts", Chaguaramas Bay is the hub of yachting activity in Trinidad. But a recent tide of crimes have set cruisers there on edge. The Yacht Services Association of Trinidad & Tobago (YSATT) comments:
"Over the past weeks, there has been much discussion in Chaguaramas Bay by the visiting cruisers over the changes in the level of crime in the bay. Between May and July 2006, there have been an increasing number of dinghy thefts. More recently, and for the first time known within the Chaguaramas Bay, there was the boarding of a vessel by three armed men. The captain and crew of the vessel endured almost two hours of threats and intimidation as well as being robbed of most of their valuables. This incident certainly increased the cruisers' growing fears.
"YSATT is the marine trades association for the yacht services industry in Trinidad & Tobago. Our main goal is to develop the industry in a controlled and sustainable manner. Our strength lies in our membership (over 100 members) and we represent the small contractors and marinas, as well as the supporting ancillary services that have come to the Chaguaramas peninsula to facilitate the growing number of yacht arrivals. What YSATT is not is a policing or a security force. YSATT has been under a lot of fire by the cruising community for not eliminating the crime. However, we are far from burying our heads in the sand. We recognise the fears of the escalation of crime in Chaguaramas and the potential impact that it could have on the entire industry in the short term.
"On August 24th, a security meeting was hosted by the Chaguaramas Cruisers Working Group. [See Compass September 2006.] YSATT was invited to address the cruisers to share our plans for alleviating the situation. YSATT, along with some of our member marinas, addressed the group, providing details of immediate, short term and long term plans. The ideal long term plan would require the cooperation and resources of the private sector working together with the Government of Trinidad & Tobago.
"After the security meeting hosted by the Cruisers Working Group, there has been a large amount of bad publicity regarding the crime situation in the Chaguaramas Bay. We are working towards managing the facts in a responsible and accurate manner. Some of what has been published is correct and some is definitely not.
"A recent incident involved a Norwegian vessel. Unfortunately there was a boarding with one of the attackers armed with a gun, the other two with a knife and a machete respectively. Luckily, nobody was injured during this ordeal. After the incident, the captain and crew were taken to the Police, given free accommodation and their vessel has been stored in a boatyard at no cost for the duration of the hurricane season. All of this was done by YSATT staff and its member companies. Additionally, the Police and the Coast Guard have been engaging members of the crew in their investigations, including taking them out to identify items on suspicious vessels. Unfortunately, to date, the perpetrators have not been apprehended and we continue to follow up with the authorities regarding this investigation.
"Local, regional and international marine-related publications have been reaching all corners of the globe with reports regarding the escalation of crime in Trinidad. The fact is that crime is escalating everywhere; however we are not here to compare ourselves with other locations, and we need to address our own issues first.
"It is important that we look at the reality of the crime situation and from there try to change the incorrect perceptions out there - this will not be easy. For the year of 2006, there have been official reports of seven dinghy thefts but the unofficial word-of-mouth reports are near 20. One armed boarding and robbery has been reported. These figures are not ideal; we would love to realize a crime-free area. A collaborative effort between all of the authorities, stakeholders and the cruisers will be necessary to reduce the threat of crime.
"The private sector in the Chaguaramas area, particularly the marinas and boatyards, have all been beefing up security in their individual establishments. Besides the visible initiatives by YSATT, we have been and continue to liaise closely with the Coast Guard, Customs Interdiction Unit and of course the local Police. The cruisers themselves have become actively involved in this fight against crime, through the establishment of the Chaguaramas Cruisers Working Group and also through a nightly "neighborhood watch" in the anchorage zone. These initiatives have had an immediate effect on the number of crimes that have occurred and to date are proving to be highly successful. Having said this, we do not believe that the cruisers should have to sustain such a system in the medium or long term. We understand that our visitors will expect a certain level of safety and security and they should not have to be the anti-crime watch group for the Chaguaramas Bay.
"The Government of Trinidad & Tobago has indicated that yachting is one of the non-energy sectors earmarked for development and as such all of these problems highlighted by the cruisers are being passed on to the government ministries and agencies that can make decisions and provide resources to alleviate the situation. Government has appointed a Steering Committee for the development of the yachting industry where all of the incidents of crime are discussed. YSATT is in the process of taking the information to the Ministerial level and we trust that the various Government Ministers will recognise the potential effect the perceived crime rate will eventually have on the yachting sector. With the anticipated support of the Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Trade and Industry as well as the Ministry if Tourism, there ought to be a marked improvement in the future. YSATT's role is to engage them in the goings on in Chaguaramas and have them commit to assisting us by providing resources, manpower and expertise to improve the conditions in the bay.
"Some of the initiatives YSATT has proposed to decrease the threat of crime against cruising visitors are:
Provision of specific safety and security information, completed through the creation of a safety and security brochure for the cruisers. This is being distributed by the Customs office, the YSATT office, boatyards and marinas. It has also been posted on the YSATT (www.ysatt.org) and Caribbean Marine Association (www.caribbeanmarineassociation.com) websites. Implemented September 2006.
Increasing the hours of operation of the YSATT water shuttle. By running the shuttle between 7:30am and 10:30am, there is little reason for cruisers to walk on the road (where muggings have occurred) to get to the various marinas. Implemented September 2006.
Increasing the security within the marinas and boatyards. Implemented September 2006.
Implementing a marine patrol in Chaguaramas Bay. This will require the cooperation of the relevant national security agencies as well as funding from the private and public sector. Estimated implementation: January 2007.
Responding. Should a visiting cruiser become a victim of crime in Trinidad, YSATT can ensure that once they have reported the incident to the Police, we may assist in following up and reporting back.
Engaging the Government at the Ministerial level to discuss the ongoing issues and present our proposals for implementation (marine patrols, funding, and a security group for Chaguaramas). Estimated implementation: before the end of 2006.
"In order for the results to be best realized we will need the following from the authorities:
Sustainability of the patrols that have been recently implemented in the Chaguaramas Bay by the Coast Guard
Improved police response to calls of distress by cruisers
Assistance by the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Tourism Development Company in highlighting the need for security in the bay for the visiting cruisers to the Ministry of National Security
Response by Ministry of Tourism and/or Tourism Development Company to visitors in incidents of serious crime.
A greater attempt to apprehend suspected perpetrators
"Of course the visiting cruisers themselves have a responsibility to themselves by:
Being aware of their surroundings and looking out for one another
Understanding the differences between their own countries and Trinidad & Tobago
Not engaging in illicit or illegal activity within Trinidad & Tobago
Reporting ALL incidents of crime, regardless of perceived seriousness, to the authorities
"YSATT continues to work with the cruising community, the private sector and the government agencies to make them understand the need for proper patrols, enforcement and care of duty by all.
"We believe that Trinidad ranks as a relatively safe destination. There is much interest by YSATT and the private sector in Chaguaramas in making the changes necessary to enhance our visitor's experiences. Yes, there was an armed robbery in August, but the good news is that since that incident, there has not been a single crime, petty or serious, reported in the area. This improvement is a testament to the commitment of the stakeholders to continue to address the needs of our visiting cruisers."
The tourist posters call it "a land of contrasts", and it is. Venezuela's hundreds of miles of mainland coastline and offshore islands offer innumerable anchorages, and crime-report rates range from a 2003 to mid-2006 regional high for Porlamar to virtually no reports from all of Los Roques and Las Aves.
ONSA is the non-governmental national organization for search and rescue and maritime safety in the aquatic spaces of Venezuela. On the ONSA website (www.onsa.org.ve) there is a recently updated map showing risk tendencies for various areas of Venezuela's waters. The website also provides a form for the reporting of piracy or cases of armed robbery.
Luis G. Inciarte, Permanent National Council Secretariat, ONSA, says, "We recommend that everyone sailing in Venezuela check the Zones of Risk for Boats map on our website and also report all incidents of piracy and armed robbery, in order to diminish the risk of attacks in our waters. We also invite all members of the marine community to circulate the risk zone map as widely as possible. (Downloadable from www.onsa.org.ve/riskzonesmaps)
"We exhort all those who have been the object of some act of piracy or armed robbery within the jurisdiction of Venezuela, after having reported the incident to the proper authorities, to report this activity through the form located at www.onsa.org.ve/direcciones/asuntos/sm/pirateria. Reports can be made in Spanish or English. All referred cases will be registered and investigated. This web page report form uses the format required by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to be validated. We look forward to receiving verifiable facts, preferably from the original source. Include your e-address to receive a copy of the report. If you don't have access to the internet, please ask someone to make the report for you.
"Although in the last 12 months we have had no news about local authorities taking any specific new actions to combat crime against yachting visitors, we continue to exhort the Venezuelan National Authorities to implement, by means of a Joint Plan, corrective and effective measures directed to intensify the monitoring of high-risk areas."
Compass has also heard that there is a move underway in Puerto La Cruz (including local marina principals and visiting boaters) to have a meeting with the Governor, Venezuela's Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Tourism and others to call their attention to the security issues and to request a serious effort to address and solve these problems.
Marinas Improve Security
Many marinas in the region are regularly taking steps to improve security in and around their premises. The most recent updates we've received from this sector follow.
At Marina Bas du Fort in Guadeloupe, iron gates have been installed which operate with magnetic cards. Each card opens only the gate to the pontoon where your boat is docked; your card doesn't allow you to visit other pontoons. A new video surveillance system is in operation, and during high season security guards will be on patrol.
From St. Lucia, Ernie Seon reports: "Rodney Bay Marina is moving to address concerns by visiting yachtsmen about security in the area, in the wake of the June 18 attack on a European couple who had berthed their vessel off the shore. Although the assault did not take place in the Marina area, the facility has been receiving e-mails from yachtsmen expressing their concerns and asking what measures were being put in place to address those concerns.
"Rodney Bay Marina General Manager Cuthbert Didier said such fears were being expressed as the marina gets ready to host the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) in November and December, which he expects will be the biggest in the 16 years that the event has ended in St. Lucia. Didier said security was emerging as a key component of this year's ARC in particular and yachting in the Marina in general.
"Earlier in the year, an 18-foot Boston Whaler was acquired by the Marina at a cost of US$25,000 with the intention that it would be used by the St. Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA) to patrol the waters around the Marina and nearby lagoon. The patrol boat is currently in service offering patrols to deter potential intruders. Didier said that provision of the boat represented the continuing commitment of the marina to play its part in ensuring security of the entire Rodney Bay area which had previously been the hunting ground for thieves, earning the area considerable negative publicity in the process.
"There have been several reports of thieves stealing from yachts berthed in the marina as well as cases of drug activities, especially at night time. 'We believe that with this vessel, acquired at considerable expense by Rodney Bay Marina, the St. Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority will be better able to keep the entire area under surveillance to deter these illegal activities,' Didier said.
"Ten SLASPA ports policemen have been trained to man the vessel which will provide back-up to the Marine Police who, Didier said, had been doing an excellent job providing security in the area, in recent times. Didier is optimistic that the commissioning of the Boston Whaler will enhance the capabilities of the forces of law and order in the Rodney Bay area, thereby curtailing any sort of illicit activity by day or night. To date, there have been no new incidents reported.
"The Marina is also developing its own security force and has written to the government seeking to have 15 of its employees formally trained alongside recruits for the national Police Force. Didier said the Marina's security officers would be deployed in all areas frequented by visitors during the upcoming ARC.
"Altogether, Didier is confident that security issues in and around the marina are under control. 'In fact, we have not had any major security problem over the 16 years that we have been hosting the ARC and we are confident that with the new measures already put in place, or on the way, that record will remain intact,' Didier said. 'Outside the ARC, our surveillance of the area will remain a top priority at all times during the year to keep out undesirable elements and eliminate attacks on yachts using our facilities,' Didier added."
Safety in Numbers
Buddy-boating is growing more popular than ever, for safety/security as well as social reasons. Yacht rallies are also increasingly popular. Inter-island rally organizer Stéphane Legendre (www.transcaraibes.com) notes, "I am meeting too many terrorized people around on their yachts. It's true that focus on safety is great amongst rally participants. I always make sure safety is maximized wherever I go during rallies. I always make sure that possible assailants realize we are a group; for example, when we arrive at anchorages, we do a lot of tender trips between boats and if anything happens to one of the boats, we all switch on the spotlights. I am sure that helps. At night, we sail with proper lights and VHFs on. I am sure more boats will join rallies in the future, as it is a safe and fun way to discover new places."
Where Do We Go From Here?
Many security initiatives are being taken by public and private sector entities in various countries throughout the Eastern Caribbean and Venezuela. But since so many yachtspeople view the sub-region as basically a single cruising ground, and will regard that cruising ground in general as "safe" or "risky", how can we coordinate all these regional initiatives?
From the 4th through the 6th of October, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will convene its 4th Meeting of the OECS and Eastern Caribbean Council of Ministers of Tourism (including all islands in the Eastern Caribbean, Dutch and French, as well as English-speaking) in Puerto Rico. We understand that the issue of coordinated regional security for the Eastern Caribbean's yacht tourism sector will be on the agenda.
The Caribbean Marine Association (www.caribbeanmarineassociation.com) is a regional body made up of representatives of national marine trades associations. President Keats Compton says, "The Caribbean Marine Association is available as a vehicle to partner Governments across the region in dealing with crime against yachts and other aspects of the development of this important sector."
Copyright© 2006 Compass Publishing