Safety Ashore – Are You Prepared?

2 June 2015 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, yachtcrew are no exception to risks abroad and safety precautions should become morethan routine.

Take it from Bosun Jake,* whose mate, Aaron,* arrived backat their yacht in the Caribbean one night a couple of years ago with a bruisedface, 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 tobe 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 findyourself in Aaron’s situation — or worse?

James Kellett, operations director of Allmode Limited, whichprovides risk management and security services, maintains that violent crimesare relatively low around the world in areas most yachts visit. But there are afew caveats.

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

Alastair Heane of ITUSYACHT, which offers security trainingcourses, adds that while the yachting industry reports some attacks, theinformation is often varied and seems to solely come from victims themselves orthird parties.

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

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

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

In February 2015, the U.S. Department of State released TheBahamas 2015 Crime and Safety Report, which states that the murder rateincreased in 2014, and a more recent article from the InternationalBusiness Times reports that crime in The Bahamas has gone up by 19 percent since2014 — and we’re not even halfway through 2015 yet.

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

“It has been reported that criminal gangs have targeted themore affluent ports\ areas of the Mediterranean and street crime is raising,”states Kellett. “With crime levels against crews rising globally, the issue ofpersonal security is no longer limited to areas previously recognized as highrisk, such as South America. Within the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, wehave 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 highlydeveloped tourist destinations, he adds.

Kellett isn’t the only one observing an increase in crime. Accordingto Heane, a rise in austerity and poverty in some areas, an increase in thewealthy superyacht industry and overpopulated cruising areas have created a higherrisk for superyachts and crews in areas that have been cruised in relativesafety for years.

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

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

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

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 inthe U.S., the incident should also be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard, saysTonya Meister, admiralty law attorney at Meister Law, LLC in Miami.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it’s time to finally go ashore, Meister recommendsfirst researching the port online for any crime information and alerts. If youdecide 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 befriendly — but not too friendly. “A clever person with a charm, relaxed mannerand approach can extract far too much from a crewmember…details…can all bedivulged without even knowing so,” says Heane.

It’s best to go into different regions with a heightened amountof 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 safeinside bags by using compartments, and carry your bag across your body, makingit more difficult to steal.

2. Keep copies of your passport’s ID page as wellas your birth certificate, driver’s license and credit cards. Keep originals insafe, but separate places. Scan the documents and save the files in your emailaccount 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 vehiclebreak-ins. Leave nothing in view and do not leave valuables, money or importantdocuments in the vehicle. Have a valid license for the country you’re in.

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

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

6. Don’t leave drinks unattended, dressappropriately for the location you’re visiting and respect local culture andcustoms.

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

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

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

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

11. Takecontact numbers with you in case of an emergency. Know about where you’re goingand let someone aboard know.

12. Useonly well-lit and secure ATMs (bank foyers, hotels, etc.). Keep your cashhidden and have crew with you when making a withdrawal to watch for suspectedmuggers.

13. Don’tleave luggage unattended.

14. Avoidlarge crowds or demonstrations.

15. Whenboarding 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 actingnormally? (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 anyincident.

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

*name changed for anonymity