Cruise Venezuela? Forget about it. St. Lucia and St. Vincent? Beware. Avoid anchoring out in Guatemala, too. Cuba, on the other hand, “has virtually no crime against yachtsmen.”
So writes economist Catherine Hebson in the most recent edition of the Caribbean Security Index, an online resource for cruisers.
In January, British cruiser Roger Pratt was gunned down by robbers trying to board his boat while anchored at St. Lucia. His wife, Margaret, whom he was trying to protect, suffered cuts and bruises on her face trying to fight the assailants. Both were 62.
To get its ratings, Hebson’s system combines crime reports with an analysis of underlying cultural, political and economic factors. Her methods resemble the analytical practices of government intelligence agencies. Each locale is rated for security at marinas and at anchor on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the safest.
(Click to visit Hebson's website freecruisingguides.com, which gets its name from the fact that, besides the CSI, it also offers free cruising guides to regions of the Caribbean.)
Safety at St. Lucia marinas was rated at 9.5 (and falling), while safety at anchor scored a 7, which is pretty bad for an island that bills itself as the honeymoon capital of the Caribbean. Looking at the map, we can see that St. Lucia is part of the Windward Islands in the Eastern Quadrant, which had the highest incidence of crime last year.
The island of St. Vincent, also in the Windwards, scored a 5.6 for security at anchor. In October, the sailing vessel Rainbow was anchored off Union Island, when machete-wielding robbers attacked the two people aboard, Mark Beiser and Christina Curtin. Beiser drove the attackers off with a kitchen knife, but not before Curtin’s face was slashed. Union is in the Grenadines between St. Vincent and Grenada.
Grenada is generally well liked by cruisers, but its security rating is declining, too. Hebson rates Grenada marinas at 8.7 and gives anchoring a 7.8. “Good place to visit generally with low crime, good yachting facilities and repair opportunities. Nice anchorages and harbors in the company of many other cruisers,” Hebson writes. “Reported 2013 thefts up slightly from 2012.”
Venezuela’s coast in the Southeast Quadrant is regarded as the most dangerous place in the Caribbean, even though the number of crimes reported was down to only three in 2013.
“News of violent crime travels fast and far,” Hebson writes. “These crimes surface quickly and in detail, whether or not the victim wishes to be public. From CSI research, if crime is down in Venezuela, whether on the mainland or in the islands, it is not because the area is safer (the underlying political and economic instability has not changed). It is because the “prey population,” the cruising community, is avoiding, or shunning these waters, and there are fewer opportunities for the predators. In other words, avoidance works.”
Cruisers wishing to transit Venezuelan waters en route from the Grenadines or Trinidad to the safety of the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire have been forming convoys for mutual protection, although the effectiveness of the tactic is debatable.
Meanwhile, the safest cruising grounds happen to be the closest to home. The benefits of a police state are reflected in Cuba’s 9.8 security rating. The Caymans also rate 9.8. The Dominican Republic scores 9.6 at marinas and 8.8 for its anchorages, due to incidents of petty theft. Haiti scores poorly except for some specific locales, such as Ile a Vache, a 9.6 anchorage. Puerto Rico gets a 9.6, anchored or at a marina.
Hebson and others attribute declining security in the Caribbean to a combination of factors; they say Caribbean crime is driven by the economic downturn and the fact the islands lie on the path of drug traffickers moving contraband northward.