U.S. attorney raises alarm over crime
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Jan 07, 2014
With calls from victims of crime in Nassau the “majority” of those received by his firm, a Florida-based maritime lawyer has claimed that Nassau may be “one gunshot away” from seeing cruise lines drop it from their cruising itineraries.
Jim Walker, partner at Walker and O’Neil, a Miami law firm which represents passengers and crew members injured or assaulted on cruise ships around the world, said he sees The Bahamas progressing along a path which led in the case of countries like Colombia to cruise lines pulling out of the destination.
“We’ve seen a pattern of conduct with the cruise lines, where they had extensive conversations with the authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands, they complained about crime and when they didn’t get answers they left. My concern is that Nassau is one gunshot away from having cruise lines leave.”
Walker, an attorney for 30 years who has appeared frequently in U.S. media outlets speaking on the topic of cruise safety, noted that his line of work sees him receive calls from aggrieved cruise passengers who are seeking redress over crimes they fell victim to.
“We don’t receive calls from any passengers sailing into Alaska, Canada or Europe, except some from passengers pickpocketed in Naples or Rome, Italy, but as far as dividing the planet up into zones, almost 100 percent of calls relative to crime off the ship are coming from passengers
who were in the Caribbean and that would include the most dangerous ports we’re aware of based on calls and volume of ports, such as Nassau, St Thomas, and Roatan, Honduras; but Nassau calls are the majority of the calls. It’s robberies, sexual assaults, being held up at gunpoint.”
Nonetheless, Walker said that the number of phone calls he has received from passengers regarding incidents when in Nassau has remained “steady” over the past five years.
The attorney’s concern about the future of cruise tourism in Nassau peaked recently when it became known that Carnival Cruise Lines had issued a crime warning to its passengers about the Port of Nassau, and revealed that it had been in communication with the government about the issue of crime and the safety of passengers it brings to the city.
Walker said he viewed this action - both the issuance of a crime warning to its passengers on disembarking at a port of call, and the admission that it was seeking to have the problem addressed through dialogue with the government - as particularly ominous.
“Once you are at a point where Carnival is having discussion about crime it reflects to me that Carnival is concerned business relationship is being impacted.
“I don’t think its competitor cruise lines have made any ultimatum, but they’ve raised the concern and it’s something that as, far as I am aware, they have not done in any other port - warning passengers of crime, and recommending they are going to designated destinations close to the port and on Carnival excursions.”
Walker suggested that the admission by Carnival that it was speaking with the government about its concerns over crime suggest it is particularly troubled by the crime situation, given that such an admission might forseeably expose the company to greater liability if a passenger were to be injured or robbed in Nassau.
Robbery of acting prime minister
Meanwhile, Walker called the recent armed robbery of then-acting Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis in his home, a “real wake up call” which would not have gone unnoticed by cruise lines.
“It fascinates me that the acting prime minister was robbed at gun point – it’s unbelievable to me. It’s deeply disturbing because you’d assume you would take far better protection of your honorable leaders than some teenagers coming on shore with flip flops, so what does that say?” said Walker.
The attorney added that cruise lines by and large tend to do “whatever they want irrespective of what is good for the local port that they pretend to have partnerships with” and having pulled out of destinations like Cartagena, Colombia; Acapulco, Mexico; and St Croix, USVI, would have little except the profit motive to stop them leaving Nassau.
The attorney said that while the profitability of retaining Nassau as a destination on its cruise itinerary may tend to mitigate against it being dropped over crime concerns by cruise lines, if just one incident of a death of a tourist were to be recorded, this could change the situation dramatically.
“As long as no one is shot and killed I think this will chug along just the way it is. I don’t think any cruise line has the foresight, or is going to disrupt their business interests, as long as no one is shot and killed. So do I think they’ll just pull out because this type of robberies continue? No, I think they will make a point if someone is shot and killed of pulling out. It may not be permanently, but at that point certainly, I think that would happen.
“What happened in St Croix was that there were lots of complaints and the government did nothing, especially (complaints) by Carnival. Then a couple of passengers were shot and killed and poof – they departed in 2003, almost immediately,” said Walker.
Walker has been highlighting his views on the crime situation in The Bahamas and its implications for cruise tourism in his blog, Cruise Law News. He is not the only one blogging on this topic. Guardian Business found at least one other law firm specializing in cruise passenger safety cases which was highlighting the crime situation in The Bahamas as a threat to passengers and tourism.
Walker has taken flack for his decision to flag The Bahamas as a potentially unsafe destination for cruise passengers by “patriotic Bahamians” who argue that it is rare for tourists to become crime victims.
However, Walker argues that in his experience, it is not only tourists who venture into some of the less touristic parts of Nassau who can become victims of crime.
“Some of these things are not remotely happening ‘over the hill’. There’s an equal percentage of young women who are at (a local business) and something will happen between the bar and the cruise ship, even when they are near police substations, and that’s concerning to us...”
Meanwhile, he added that he was worried by the fact that visitors “almost uniformly” tell him that police in The Bahamas tell them that such incidents are “rare” or “have never happened before.”
“It seems that whereas local press is extraordinarily transparent, the local police seem to be more motivated to act as tourism representatives.”
Noting that by and large he does not believe most passengers view The Bahamas as a crime hot spot, Walker suggested that travel agents should be warning passengers about crime rates so that they can make informed travel decisions.
“Ninety five per cent of people will have a wonderful time, but if I was a travel agent, I wouldn’t be so motivated by commission to do basic research on recommending where people sail. A lot of people are patriotic, they want to protect their country, but my concern in what I do as a living is representing people who are injured or victims of crime.
“I would prefer to warn people and have far fewer clients than have people robbed and assaulted.”