The US Virgin Islands' police department has reported 11 fatal shootings in St Thomas already in 2014. Home to one of the cruise industry's main ports in the Caribbean, and with media attention on the recent crimes relatively low, it calls into question whether the island is reluctant to let news of an upturn in violence spread in an attempt to protect local tourism. Superyacht security specialists, and those with experience of the area, confirm that precautions should be taken, but that the issue is not isolated to St Thomas, or even the Caribbean.

“With several cruise ships visiting daily, St Thomas is easily the most commercialised island in the Virgins. However, a significant question mark regarding the safety and security of visiting tourists has been hanging over the island for a number of years,” explains Ed Hill, managing director of Intrepid Risk Management. “Guns, drugs and robberies are not infrequent, particularly amongst the island’s impoverished communities and the perpetrators of these crimes are rarely apprehended. The arrival of unsuspecting tourists presents an attractive opportunity to the island’s criminal element and the arrival of a superyacht is no exception.”

For those superyachts visiting St Thomas, Hill explains that it is essential that crews are fully prepared, and the necessary safety measures are taken. “The security of the yacht itself is paramount,” he advises. “The establishment of strict access control procedures should be implemented, with a visible and continuous passerelle watch and visitors on board must be logged in and out and escorted at all times. The east end of the island, particularly Coki Beach, has been the scene of a number of violent crimes and if possible should be avoided, especially at night. Owners may also wish to consider engaging a specialist close protection team who will plan all incursions and discreetly maintain a watchful eye throughout.”


Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas.

The captain of a 60m-plus motoryacht told SuperyachtNews.com he often uses St Thomas as a base between trips and feels that the island is safer than elsewhere in the Caribbean. “We use [St Thomas] because we can no longer go to St Maarten due to the crime and I am reluctant to go to Antigua for the same reason,” explains the captain. “I find that the Yacht Haven Grande in St Thomas is secure for the crew; it has 24-hour security, ISPS, there are bars, restaurants and shops and everything right there so that I know my crew can still have a good time without having to venture too far into the back streets.”

This captain is also careful to point out that issues with superyacht safety and security are not limited to St Thomas, but can be found almost anywhere in the world. “In every single country, particularly the Caribbean, there can be trouble if people are walking off the wrong track. In St Thomas we find that Megan’s Bay, on the north side of the island, is an area to watch out for, particularly if you are leaving bags on the beach. But then this is also an issue in Barcelona. I think if everybody is savvy enough and they are aware of what is going on around them then everywhere is relatively safe.”

Speaking to Carl Fereday, operations manager at Veritas International, he also emphasises that crime is an issue for superyachts that's not only isolated to St Thomas. “It is something that I try to keep an eye on and St Thomas isn’t the only destination in the Caribbean that suffers from violent crime,” he concurs. “In the extreme there is Jamaica, St Kitts and Trinidad and Tobago, which all have very high homicide rates. Although primarily a domestic problem, it can and does spill over into the tourist sector. Perhaps it is the look of serene paradise that gives people a slightly false sense of security."


"It seems to be a constant battle for departments to accurately quantify annual homicide and violent crime rates, and of course this is at least partly due to a desire to protect the tourism industry.”


 
Fereday goes on to highlight the trouble with measuring the true threat of crime in areas whose economies survive on tourism. “Violent crimes against tourists in places such as St Thomas make the news fairly regularly these days if you keep an eye out, and incidents usually involve pickpocketing, carjacking and muggings," he explains, "But every now and then we hear about a tragic event. It seems to be a constant battle for departments to accurately quantify annual homicide and violent crime rates, and of course this is at least partly due to a desire to protect the tourism industry.”
 
“Crime is a problem in the Caribbean and it is shocking to hear some of the statistics,” Fereday concludes, adding that he does not think this should deter yachts from visiting the area but instead should encourage visitors to take necessary precautions. “By using common sense and intuition the same as you would when not on a paradise island, you should still be able to avoid what remains, for now, only a minor problem to tourists on islands like St Thomas.”

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