Following the tragic murder of yacht Capt. Drew Gollan on January 22, Antigua has been the subject of serious scrutiny by the yachting community. Owners and captains alike have questioned whether it is safe to bring guests and crew to the island. Luxury sailing yacht Parsifal III has even declared a boycott, refusing to return until there is evidence of much improved security.
“The life of my friend Drew Gollan cannot be in vain; the government of Antigua must protect their local citizens and the visiting yacht crew that visit their island,” says Parsifal III’s Capt. Jesse Pearson.
Gollan’s murder led the Antigua police force to announce a stepped-up security plan for the island, reported on Dockwalk.com in late January. The plan included the promise to provide more police visibility, a stop-and-search policy with “complete no-tolerance” for drugs and weapons, better security lighting and CCTV cameras.
But has there been a marked improvement in safety on the island? Three months later, the main road between Falmouth and English Harbour already has seen changes. There is good lighting as well as CCTV cameras covering the area. The vegetation has been cut back to ensure fewer hiding places and during the evenings there are regular police patrols.
Neil Parker, Deputy Commissioner in Charge of Police for Antigua and Barbuda, says, “Since January we have increased the police presence in Falmouth and English Harbour by 25 percent. We are focusing on community policing and regular patrols carried out by uniformed and plain-clothed police officers. We continue to enforce a strict no-tolerance policy and will increase the security in the area even more throughout the duration of the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week.”
The police force is not the only sector of the Antiguan community to have addressed the issue of drug use and demand in an effort to reduce violent crime.
Jane Midson of Jane’s Yacht Services in Antigua says, “At the beginning of the year, local yacht businesses came together to lobby visiting captains to adopt the zero-tolerance stance with crew and drug use. The move was embraced by many of the captains we spoke to and there is no doubt that the demand for drugs from yacht crew this season has dramatically decreased and with it, as we suspected, the dealers are leaving.”
This claim is backed up by one of the owners of Abracadabra Restaurant in English Harbour, who said, “There is definitely less demand for drugs from the yachties this season. Without the demand, the supply diminishes.”
Chief Stewardess Tracy from S/Y Ranger was the victim of a violent robbery when visiting Falmouth in 2008. “When I heard we were coming back to Antigua this season, I was terrified; it was the last thing I wanted to do,” says Tracy. “But there has been a noticeable change. I feel like the local community is looking out for visitors much more; they obviously want people to feel safe again.”
The general consensus seems to be that this has been a slower season in Antigua, as it has been throughout the Caribbean, but most would put this down to the state of the world economy rather than a fear of continuing violence.
“Some of the smaller yachts haven’t been around this year and I would definitely say that was more for financial reasons rather than anything else. The bigger yachts remain loyal to us here in Antigua,” says Midson.
Have you been to Antigua recently? Did you see any improvements in security?