Roatan: The Irresponsibility of Travel Writers

The last two weeks has been an eye opener for knowledgeable tourists thinking of traveling to Roatan. A cruise line employee was gunned down near the port. The bloody death was widely reported in the local newspapers which published gruesome photographs of the dead crew member.

As a result, a major cruise line temporarily pulled out of Roatan. A major excursion company also canceled all tours of the island expressing concerns for the safety of cruise passengers.

The story revealed some disturbing information about the island.  A number of tourists, some arriving by cruise ship and some by air going to dive, have been robbed at gun point and machete point this year. 

Hundreds of people have left comments on our website and Facebook pages about what they think of Roatan Honduras Murder CruiseRoatan. Many islanders and expatriates who bought homes and invested in businesses in Roatan swear that the beautiful island is perfectly safe. Others have stated that it is a dangerous place, with corrupt and/or incompetent/indifferent policemen, where crimes are covered up.

I have received a wide range of responses to my articles, including curses and threats from those who feel an obligation to protect the island's reputation, whether it be for sincere, patriotic reasons or in the calculated defense of their financial investments. I have also received comments from expatriates who have fled the island in fear, or who are stuck with their debt on the island, saying you-have-no-idea-how-bad-it-is-here. 

The most expressive of expatriates in Roatan have informed me of the dangers they perceive presented by what they describe as the thugs in gangs or crack-heads desperate to feed their drug habits. These types intimidate the good people in the community who are afraid to swear out complaints to the police out of fear of retribution. There is animosity between the islanders and the people from the mainland where murders are so frequent as to earn Honduras the infamous designation of having the highest murder rate in the world since 2010. Honduras and the Bahamas are the only cruise destinations in the Caribbean with critical crime warnings from the U.S. State Department.     

Some defenders of Roatan argue that things will get better and justice is possible in Roatan, pointing out that the police quickly apprehended the man who shot and killed the cruise line employee. (Photo above) But others point out that police work really didn't solve the murder. Rather, the mayor's $5,000 reward led to the alleged murderer's friends shooting him in the leg and then calling the cops for the reward money. Some people has posed the question to me - do you want to live in a place where a ship employee will be gunned down for a $250 cell phone and the crime will be solved only when the murderer's friends commit another crime by shooting him for a $5,000 reward?

It is with this backdrop that I read an article today in the Huffington Post entitled "Your Next Trip Should Be to Roatan, Honduras. Here's Why."

It's what I call a "puff-piece" by a travel writer, extolling the quiet "authentic island charm" and the "warm and friendly" people. There is no mention of murder or robbery or crime in the article - only images of the beautiful blue waters, the white sandy beaches, and the thick green forests of the "paradise island of Roatan." 

The article has seemingly been liked and re-tweeted by virtually every resort, dive shop, and bar on Roatan Honduras CrimeRoatan.

Is Roatan the "paradise" portrayed by the article? The article mentioned several resorts and tourist attractions. Did the travel writer pay for her stay on the island or was this a quid-pro-quo great review for a free vacation?      

Some people have warned me that if I travel to Roatan to check things out for myself, not to take a taxi or rent a car.  Some of the tourists and locals have been held up by the taxi drivers. Tourists renting cars have been ambushed when they leave the main roads (photo right). If you complain to the police, I am told, there is an even chance the police will do nothing or, worse, they will be in cahoots with the crooks.

I have written before about travel writers ignoring crime and violence and painting a false and misleading image of travel destinations: Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News.

As I said before, travel writers who ignore the murders and violence in the Caribbean ports are not doing anyone a favor. And they are providing a grave disservice to the next unsuspecting family who travels to Roatan blindly looking for paradise.  

April 21 2014 Update: Top 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World 

 

Read: Crime, What Crime? - Bay Village Voice January 2006  

Photo Credit: Cruise Critic (bottom) 

Disney Ready to Start Inaugural Season from Miami, While Questions Remain About Disappearance of Disney Youth Counselor

Disney Cruise Line has kicked off its promotion of the Disney Wonder cruise ship sailing from Miami starting December 23, 2012.  

Fort Lauderdale's Sun Sentinel newspaper reports today that "Captain Mickey Mouse officially kicked-off the countdown for the arrival of the Disney Wonder to PortMiami with a Disney-style unveiling of a larger than life banner proclaiming “See You Real Soon.”

This will be the first time a Disney cruise ship has home-ported in South Florida.

Readers of my blog will recall that the Disney Wonder has a rather notorious history as the cruise ship from which a young English woman "disappeared" last year.

In March 2011, twenty-four year old Disney crew member Rebecca Coriam somehow "vanished" from the Wonder while it was sailing on a Mexican itinerary from Southern California. The Coriam family feels that Disney has been less than forthcoming with information regarding their daughter's situation. They believe that the cruise line has not cooperated with them in finding out exactly what happened on the Disney cruise ship.

Because Disney flagged its ship in the Bahamas to avoid taxes and labor laws, official responsibility for Rebecca Coriam - Disney Cruise - Disney Wonder Cruise Shipinvestigating disappearances from Bahamian flagged ship falls to the Bahamas. A single policeman from the Bahamas investigated Rebecca's disappearance. The investigation took only a few hours. The Bahamas refuses to provide the Coriams with the results of its investigation and is concealing the official report from them.  Disney refuses to release information to the family saying that they must obtain the information from the Bahamas which, Disney know, won't cooperate at all.

A sorry state of affairs with these foreign incorporated cruise lines sailing under foreign flags of convenience concealing information from grieving families.  

By the way, Rebecca was employed as a youth counselor for Disney. You'd  think that a corporation touting "family cruises" and promoting special vacations for kids would try to get to the bottom of the disappearance of a youth counselor whose job was to take care of children, as well as being sensitive and transparent with the employee's family. Think again.

Below is a video about how cruise lines cover up disappearances at sea, of both passengers and crew.  The Coriam family is interviewed and so am I.  Ask yourself whether Disney will be transparent with you if your daughter disappears from the Disney Wonder when it sails out of Miami next month.

Do you know what happened to Rebecca? Please contact her family: Web: Rebecca-Coriam.com Email: help@rebecca-coriam.com

 

Will the Juggernauts of the Seas Ruin Venice?

The Telegraph in the U.K. has an interesting article this weekend - "Cruise Ships Could Be Shut Out of Venice Over Erosion Fears."

The article points out that environmentalists and heritage groups have long complained that mammoth cruise ships plow through the shallow Venetian lagoon and damage the fragile canal banks, wooden piles and mud banks on which the city rests.

The article shows a photograph of Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas looming over the beautiful canals and bridges of Venice.

Venice Italy - Cruise Ships

 

The mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, plans to meet the head of the city's port authority, Paolo Costa, this week to discuss the problem.  He is quoted stating that "the problem of these juggernauts of the sea needs to be confronted." 

There has been a significant increase in the number of cruise ships visiting Venice, from 200 in 2000 to 510 in 2007.   The newspaper reports that last year 1,600,000 tourists arrived in Venice by cruise ship

Mayor Orsoni suggested that cruise ships could be transferred to Porto Marghera, on the mainland, in order to minimize the environmental and aesthetic impact on Venice.

This is not the first time that a major newspaper has addressed this issue.  In May, the New York Times ran across an interesting article "Venice Tourist Ships Rattle Windows and Nerves" by Elisabetta Povoledo.

I visited Venice by backpack when I was in college and commented on my impression of the effects of the cruise industry on Venice over the past 35 year in my article Are Cruise Ships Ruining Venice Or Just Memories From My Youth?  You can see a couple of photos I took when I was in college and stayed in Venice for a few days. 

The photo below is from the New York Times article.

Venice - Cruise Ships   

 

Photo credit:

Top:  Alamy via the  Telegraph

Bottom:  Manuel Silvestri/Reuters