(6:30 p.m. EDT) -- Since Monday's tragic shooting death of a young Carnival Victory passenger on an independent tour of St. Thomas, we've heard -- on Cruise Critic's Facebook page, on the message boards and via our U.K. blog -- many times: "I never knew St. Thomas had a crime problem."
St. Thomas has long struggled with crime, much in the same way big cities throughout the United States do, which has been another major point of discussion among Cruise Critic readers. The difference here, though, is that St. Thomas is marketed as America's "paradise." And if it surprises some travelers to find out St. Thomas is far from paradise these days, rest assured its problems are no secret to residents, politicians, travel agents and cruise line executives.
Cruise Critic's St. Thomas port profile warns that "crime can be an issue" -- outside of tourist areas. A scan of local headlines (and recent press releases on the USVI Police Department's Web site, on topics ranging from drug and weapons arrests to domestic violence) paints a grim picture, though not against visitors.
But Monday's tragic incident changes the whole game. The shootout occurred in broad daylight, not far from a major -- and packed -- tourist area. The victim was traveling on a crowded open-air safari bus when she was caught in gang-related crossfire that had broken out in a cemetery en route to Coki Point Beach, where the Coral World aquarium is located.
In this case, a "person of interest" has been arrested. A spokesperson for St. Thomas shared a prepared statement from the United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, which dubs the shooting "an isolated incident" and says crimes against visitors are rare. A request for additional information on what St. Thomas is doing to protect visitors was not fulfilled by press time.
In the various debates that have cropped up this week on Cruise Critic, many want to know: When a ship visits a port of call where crime is a known issue, at least locally, is the cruise line and its staff responsible for warning its passengers?
Does that duty fall to planning guides and resources, like Cruise Critic? Should travelers take it upon themselves to decide to which ports or places they should and should not go?
Or is cruise travel in the Caribbean a case of caveat emptor: Let the cruiser beware?
Tell us in our poll.
So, what happens next?
Several cruise lines have halted excursions to the Coki Beach area, but none have pulled ships out of St. Thomas, a bold idea we discussed in our blog (it is U.K.-centric, but you don't have to be from the U.K. to read it). But if they do depart, it certainly won't be the first time rampant crime has led to Caribbean reshuffling. Consider St. Croix: The once booming cruise port, offering access to gorgeous scenery, great surfing and pristine beaches, still gets traffic -- but is far less popular than it once was.
Why? Crime wasn't battled, so cruise ships hoisted anchor and went elsewhere.
To that end, what happens next with St. Thomas largely depends on the response of tourism officials and law enforcement authorities. In the near term, the Virgin Islands Daily News reports that Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty and Police Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr. will meet tomorrow with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, which represents 15 member lines sailing in the region, to share information on enhanced safety and security measures and the territory's crisis management plan.
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor
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Who's Responsible for Warning Cruise Travelers About Dangers in Port?
July 15, 2010