The super-lucrative Caribbean cruising season is almost here. And with it comes renewed attention on a sticky issue for cruise lines in the Caribbean. According to an email obtained by the The Nassau Guardian, an executive with Carnival Cruise Line reportedly warned a Bahamas tourism official that Carnival is so worried about crime in Nassau, it’s considering issuing crime warnings to the passengers it brings there.
Meanwhile, in an interview published last week by The Saint Lucia Times, the president of the Saint Lucia Venders Association publicly accused the Minister of Tourism of ignoring the island nation’s crime problem. He said crime in Saint Lucia has gotten so bad, cruise lines might consider dropping that popular Caribbean port stop from their itineraries, as Norwegian Cruise Line did in the 2010-2012 season because of reported crimes against passengers.
Passengers from the Celebrity Eclipse were the victims of a notably brazen robbery in Saint Lucia in 2013.
True or not, the reports have renewed debate about crime in the Caribbean, and how it affects the millions of cruise ship passengers and other American tourists who visit there each year. Some countries in particular have seen their share of troubling developments.
- In the Bahamas, the U.S. State Department warns of a spike in crime that’s affected American visitors. Those crimes include armed robberies in downtown Nassau and the cruise ship docks, “snatch-and-grab” robberies and sexual assaults (the U.S. Embassy says last year, there were four reported sexual assaults of U.S. citizens, including minors, by jet-ski operators).
- In Saint Lucia, the State Department warns that crime is rising, with tourists being “targeted often” for petty crime. In one unusually brazen 2013 crime, 55 passengers from the Celebrity Eclipse were robbed at gunpoint during a St. Lucia excursion. No one was hurt.
- Unlike its cautionary notes for the Bahamas and Saint Lucia, the State Department has gone a step farther with Honduras; that nation is under a full-blown Travel Warning, where U.S. officials say you should “consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. “The level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high,” says the warning. While popular Honduran cruise destinations in the Bay Islands, such as Roatan, do have lower crime rate than mainland Honduras, the State Department warns that “thefts, break-ins, assaults, and murders do occur.”
Travellers heading to the Bahamas might be putting themselves at risk for robberies and sexual assaults.
Miami attorney Jim Walker, who has represented a number of former passengers in lawsuits against the cruise industry, has warned of escalating crime in many popular Caribbean cruise stops, especially in places like the Bahamas, Saint Lucia, and others. “Every week we get a call of some sort from a Caribbean island,” Walker tells Yahoo Travel. “There’s been a sexual assault of a minor in a place that otherwise seemed safe. Or someone’s been robbed. Or someone’s been physically assaulted.”
He singles out the Bahamas, which he’s called the most dangerous cruise destination in the world. “If someone came to me and said, ‘I’m going [on a cruise] from Spain to Italy, or a cruise from Seattle to Ketchikan [Alaska] or I’m going to go to Nassau,’ I’d say, 'Please, don’t go to Nassau.’” he says. “I see it as a hotspot. It’s just a place that we hear about quite quite often.”
In addition to the Bahamas, Saint Lucia and Roatan, Walker also points to destinations like Antigua, St. Kitts and Guatemala as problematic for cruise ship passengers. “I don’t think the cruise industry does a very good job of warning passengers about the realities in these ports,” says Walker. “Most people don’t know what they’re getting into. They think it’s better in the Bahamas. They think they’re going on a tropical getaway and they get themselves into real danger.”
Walker says. In fact, Nassau has a relatively high overall murder rate — 30 per 100,000 people (the U.S. homicide rate is around five per 100,000 people).
“Like any claims, there are issues,” cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron, a.k.a. “The Cruise Guy,” talks about crime in the Caribbean. But he accuses critics of playing up years-old and isolated, horror stories. And he disagrees with claims that cruise lines aren’t doing enough to warn passengers of the potential dangers that do exist.
“Cruise lines do everything possible to ensure passenger ship safety and make adjustments where necessary,” he says. “Cruise lines like Carnival do inform passengers, in writing, to be vigilant while visiting Nassau.”
After researching several incidents in these hot spots, I don't think the cruise lines are doing nearly enough to protect their passengers. A warning on a piece of paper would not stop many people from going ashore. There is very real danger out there for unsuspecting tourists.
What they should do is instruct you on how to protect yourself.
So, How can I protect myself?
A moonlit stroll on the beach might seem enticing, but walking alone at night in an isolated area could be dangerous.
While chances are that you’ll have a crime-free trip to the Caribbean, there are still things you can do to protect yourself when you cruise to this or any other region. U.S. officials recommend exercising caution when discussing travel plans in public. Don’t walk on isolated beaches and areas, especially at night, and book excursions only with reputable tour companies. Don’t let your guard down or drink too much; criminals tend to target those who appear drunk or unaware.
Walker recommends cruisers read up on crime reports for the cruise destinations, either by searching advisories by the State Department or even reading their destinations’ local newspapers online. Once your cruise vacation begins, keep an eye on your children (especially young teenagers). “Don’t leave the tourist areas,” he says. “Don’t go sightseeing by yourself or anything like that. If it looks dangerous, it’s probably more dangerous than you think. You can always go back to the ship.”
Should I go?
St. Maarten, Cayman Islands, and Barbados are all beautiful and safe cruising destinations.
The fact is, with its blue waters, sunny beaches, and well-earned reputation for relaxation, the Caribbean remains the most popular cruising spot for a reason: the vast majority of people who visit there have a great time. Walker concedes that while he personally would tell people to avoid Nassau, there are some Caribbean locations — specifically the Cayman Islands, St. Maarten, and Barbados — that he likes.
“I wouldn’t write off all of the Caribbean, he says. “But I would be very selective."
So is a Caribbean cruise safe? It’s a classic risk/reward scenario. Walker says. “ Most people have a great holiday but I’ve just met too many people who haven’t.”