According to interviews conducted by Channel 5 Belize, the Caves Branch River in Belize was running higher than usual, causing the same tour to be canceled just a few days earlier and other tours, such as those run by Jaguar Paw Jungle Resort, to be canceled Wednesday. However, Bel-Cruise -- Carnival's shore excursion provider -- chose to run its cave tubing excursion, with over 300 cruise ship passengers participating. According to a description by Linan's husband, toward the end of the tour, strong currents pushed the couple toward the cave walls where they were sucked beneath the water. Although Eduardo Linan was rescued, his wife could not be reached in time.
According to an official statement by Carnival, "The cruise line has suspended all future sales of the excursion at this time and an investigation into the accident is underway. Carnival extends its deepest sympathy to the victim's family and loved ones during this difficult time and will continue to offer our full assistance and support."
This incident brings up memories of the zip-lining tragedy in March, when a woman fell to her death on a shore excursion in Roatan, Honduras. In that case, the tour company appeared to do everything right -- the cable that broke was brand-new with a maximum capacity of three tons and a thorough safety presentation was conducted before the tour. However, when we talked to an expert who has designed and installed zip-lines throughout the U.S., he indicated that safety standards for adventure tours in the U.S. far exceed those in other countries.
So is cave tubing in Belize unsafe? Member vacruizer says, "We saw some really unsafe stuff going on with the Carnival tour and that was two years ago. When we were there people from the ship tour were just turned loose in the caves, many had headlamps that didn't work, and they had no guides in the caves with them. Several people were stuck and yelling for help -- our private guides had to go help them out since their guides were not in the caves with them."
However, SandyToes1978 disagrees. She says, "We just got back from the Liberty cruise that went Western instead of Eastern. We really didn't have time to book independent tours, so we took the Carnival cave tubing tour. What I can say is the guides we had worked their you-know-what's off to ensure our safety. It was their number one priority. While we were in the cave, they made sure that everyone was linked together and no one got separated. I never felt unsafe. Not saying that it can't happen, but I just wanted to say how good our guides were."
But even if your guides and fellow participants are behaving appropriately, that doesn't help you if another group is not. Says member travelntreats, "It seems there is a written statement from a guest on the cave tubing tour from the Carnival ship the Glory, who witnessed the entire event, and states that a guide for the ship's tour operator was assisting the couple who were having a little difficulty, but then along came a large group from [another cave tubing company] and actually pushed the couple and assisting guide against the cave wall, causing the woman to be let loose, and go under, also hitting her head....Over the past two years, apparently, the offending company has constantly been reported to authorities for howling and tube slapping inside the caves, and aggressive, assaulting behaviour towards guests and guides from other operators, but to no avail."
Cave tubing is one of the most popular shore excursions in Belize, and if cruise lines stop offering those tours, it may be a blow for the destination and lessen the port's appeal with cruise travelers. An investigation is under way into the circumstances of the incident, and we will keep you posted. In the meantime, please remember that adventure tours always involve some level of risk, and you may want to think carefully before signing up for an extreme excursion, especially in a foreign country.
--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor