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Safety Ashore... Are You Prepared?

Jun 2nd 15

By Hillary Hoffower

When visiting a foreign land, safety is always a top concern. And with a job that involves extensive travel and working for the wealthy, yacht crew are no exception to risks abroad and safety precautions should become more than routine.

Take it from Bosun Jake,* whose mate, Aaron,* arrived back at their yacht in the Caribbean one night a couple of years ago with a bruised face, a missing wallet and a story to tell. Deciding to head back to the boat early, Aaron had separated from the crew and walked to the yacht by himself, only to be cornered and mugged on his way there. 

Fortunately, save for a punch to the eye, Aaron was unharmed, but his story is not one to take lightly and certainly is not an uncommon one. Just how cautious should you be out there, and what should you do if you find yourself in Aaron’s situation — or worse? 

James Kellett, operations director of Allmode Limited, which provides risk management and security services, maintains that violent crimes are relatively low around the world in areas most yachts visit. But there are a few caveats. 

“Due to the fact that most of these regions [are] relying heavily upon tourism, it is well known that a high number of incidents go unreported and certainly do not get published into the public domain,” he says, adding that the true number of crimes is also greater due to low levels of trust in the local police force, making victims less willing to report sensitive cases. 

Alastair Heane of ITUSYACHT, which offers security training courses, adds that while the yachting industry reports some attacks, the information is often varied and seems to solely come from victims themselves or third parties. 

Nevertheless, due to local intelligence sources, Kellett is able to highlight some main concerns and risks in certain areas.  

Violent crime, according to Kellett, predominately occurs within the poorer regions of society and ones with a large male population. “They are areas [that] are faced with high unemployment rates, corruption and a high level of illegal trade activity,” he adds. 

Petty crime occurs often in the Caribbean, with incidents on an almost daily basis, he says. The graph below, courtesy of Allmode, shows reported annual assault rates per 100,000 population. 

In February 2015, the U.S. Department of State released The Bahamas 2015 Crime and Safety Report, which states that the murder rate increased in 2014, and a more recent article from the International Business Times reports that crime in The Bahamas has gone up by 19 percent since 2014 — and we’re not even halfway through 2015 yet.  

This information sheds light on the second caveat — an increase in crime in certain areas. 

“It has been reported that criminal gangs have targeted the more affluent ports\ areas of the Mediterranean and street crime is raising,” states Kellett. “With crime levels against crews rising globally, the issue of personal security is no longer limited to areas previously recognized as high risk, such as South America. Within the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, we have seen a steady increase of crime against crews such as drink spiking, robbery, violent attacks and rape.” 

Petty crime has also become more pronounced in the highly developed tourist destinations, he adds. 

Kellett isn’t the only one observing an increase in crime. According to Heane, a rise in austerity and poverty in some areas, an increase in the wealthy superyacht industry and overpopulated cruising areas have created a higher risk for superyachts and crews in areas that have been cruised in relative safety for years.  

“Revoked safety in what the industry recognized as once safe, tranquil waters are now becoming hotspots not only for the opportunist criminal, but [also for] organized gangs operating with high-end technology,” he says. 

But when it comes down to an incident occurring, Heane says that being in the wrong place at the wrong time in an unfamiliar and violent area is often the common factor. 

So what should you do if, like Aaron, something happens to you? 

No matter what country you’re in, the protocol is the same: report the incident immediately to the local authority and vessel. If you’re in the U.S., the incident should also be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard, says Tonya Meister, admiralty law attorney at Meister Law, LLC in Miami. 

“Write a statement with all of the details while memory is still fresh. Also immediately report any injuries, seek medical care and take photographs,” she says, adding that you can contact a board-certified admiralty and maritime law expert to possibly bring a civil claim for damages. 

According to Meister, if you decide to press charges, an investigation will ensue in which you will likely be asked questions and to provide a written statement about the incident.  

“If the assailant is caught and arrested, then you will likely be asked to identify him [or] her by photographs and/or a line up,” she says. “If charges are brought against the assailant, then you may be asked to testify in court. Some jurisdictions, including the U.S., provide for criminal restitution (money for the victim) and possibly other assistance.” 

Kellett also recommends informing your local national embassy if it’s a serious incident and contacting your insurance company as soon as possible within 24 hours if necessary. 

ITUSYACHT is currently working on launching a specific database on their new website where the industry can log in and report any incident. Such data will provide more information on “security hot spot areas,” says Heane. 

Just remember — it’s best to always err on the side of caution, and there are several precautionary measures you can take to help prepare for and prevent an incident. 

Although the Proficiency in Security Awareness is now implemented in basic STCW courses, Kellett and Heane both stress the importance of taking bespoke security awareness training courses that go more in depth in the matter. 

“Basic seafarers training doesn’t cover topics related to security awareness, which would help mitigate the risk of becoming a victim while ashore,” says Kellett, adding that security training courses should cover subjects such as staying safe ashore, travel awareness, social media security and more. 

When it’s time to finally go ashore, Meister recommends first researching the port online for any crime information and alerts. If you decide to disembark, she emphasizes to always use a buddy system. 

But when it comes to interacting with strangers or locals, and even other crew, watch what you say and keep your guard up. It’s okay to be friendly — but not too friendly. “A clever person with a charm, relaxed manner and approach can extract far too much from a crewmember…details…can all be divulged without even knowing so,” says Heane. 

It’s best to go into different regions with a heightened amount of situational awareness and follow any security guidelines that are in place, advises Kellett. He offers several tips for avoiding crime: 

1. Keep important documents and valuables safe inside bags by using compartments, and carry your bag across your body, making it more difficult to steal. 

2. Keep copies of your passport’s ID page as well as your birth certificate, driver’s license and credit cards. Keep originals in safe, but separate places. Scan the documents and save the files in your email account so they’re always backed up and accessible. 

3. Drive defensively and obey traffic regulations. Excessive speeding poses a risk. There is a high frequency of vehicle break-ins. Leave nothing in view and do not leave valuables, money or important documents in the vehicle. Have a valid license for the country you’re in. 

4. Use only registered taxis. Ideally, prearrange transport through your agent with a designated local driver. 

5. Don’t leave expensive phones on display. Get a cheap local mobile and SIM. 

6. Don’t leave drinks unattended, dress appropriately for the location you’re visiting and respect local culture and customs. 

7. Don’t attract unwanted attention through inappropriate dress, excess drinking, raucous behavior or wearing too much “bling.” If you don’t need it, don’t take it. 

8. Don’t flash cash while out. Carry a dummy wallet with cancelled cards and a small amount of local currency. This can be given to the mugger so he or she will leave you alone. 

9. When in groups ashore, nominate a sober person watch over everyone. 

10. Always stay in groups of two to four and never walk home alone. 

11. Take contact numbers with you in case of an emergency. Know about where you’re going and let someone aboard know. 

12. Use only well-lit and secure ATMs (bank foyers, hotels, etc.). Keep your cash hidden and have crew with you when making a withdrawal to watch for suspected muggers. 

13. Don’t leave luggage unattended. 

14. Avoid large crowds or demonstrations. 

15. When boarding a train or a bus, wait until last and don’t get caught up in the crowd. 

Kellet also suggests using P.O.P. — Person Object Place — when out and about. This risk assessment asks the questions, Are they acting normally? (P), Do they have an object that can harm me? (O) and Can I get away? (P) 

So be cautious, be aware, use common sense and report any incident. 

As Heane puts it, “The superyacht industry needs to train for the unpredictable. Crew need to behave in a manner that is acceptable to all, no matter where on the globe.”  

*name changed for anonymity

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