Crime Wave -January 23, 2003
Corporal Strachan of the George Town police and Ron of "Latitude" listen to security concerns voiced by Steve of "Aeolia"
Crime, like virtue, has its degrees
(Jean Racine, Phedre)
Last week we attended a meeting organized by some concerned cruisers to discuss recent security incidents in George Town, the Bahamas, where we're currently parked. The meeting was held in the magistrates' court room, the largest public meeting room in the town's administrative building complex. But the hall wasn't big enough for the crowd that showed up. Despite the fact the meeting had been hastily convened and announced with little notice, the place was packed. All the seats were taken by the time we arrived, so we squeezed in and joined others standing at the back and sides of the room.
Ad hoc chair Ron Knaggs of the trawler "Latitude" and Corporal Strachan of the local police detachment stood at the front of the hall and fielded comments. A lot of people had something to say about a perceived deteriorating security situation. Everyone was concerned, several were angry. One guy talked about arming himself with a rifle. Another suggested vigilante squads and physical beatings. You well might ask what heinous crimes had provoked this reaction - pirate abductions in the anchorage? serial killings in town? Well, not quite...
All the security incidents in question involved thefts at the dinghy landing docks in town. It started as early as last November with gasoline being siphoned from several dinghies left unattended at the docks at night. Then some fuel tanks went missing. A couple of weeks ago, someone tampered with the outboard engine on a dinghy (they failed to remove the motor, but ruined the lock that secured it). Finally, a few days before the meeting, an outboard was stolen from a dinghy that had been locked overnight at one of the docks. This was considered a serious turn of events and triggered the meeting. People were wondering, "What's next?"
It's been our experience that a certain amount of thievery seems to occur wherever there is a reasonably large concentration of foreign cruising boats. In some ports in the Caribbean, the theft of dinghies complete with motors is almost a daily occurrence; occasionally an entire cruising boat goes missing. In certain locations at various times, break-ins and hold-ups have been commonplace (see, for example, our October 4, 2001 entry).
These problems seem to be cyclical. Last year's safe harbour will be this year's "hot" spot. It often transpires that items reported stolen were left out in the open, unlocked. Would you leave your car unlocked at night in a downtown parking lot back home? And we should add that the perpetrators of these crimes as often as not turn out to be other cruisers, rather than local residents. A native fisherman doesn't need a handheld GPS to find the reef he's been rowing out to all his life.
Few places on the Atlantic seaboard or in the Caribbean attract as many transient cruising boats as George Town in the winter - typically around 400 boats can be found anchored in the harbour at peak season. What's unusual about the recent spate of thefts is not that they're occurring, but that nothing of this scale has ever occurred here before.
While we consider the degree of crime evident in George Town to be fairly minor in the greater scheme of things, others clearly do not. Many cruisers are attracted to the Bahamas precisely because it is a safe and secure place to visit. In fact, their home ports in North America are probably far more crime ridden than the sleepy little islands over here. You'll hear comments like, "If I have to worry about locking up all my stuff and not venturing out after dark, I might as well stay at home!"
From the local perspective, the residents and businessmen know where their bread is buttered. They want visitors to feel welcome and at ease, especially if that means they'll stay and spend money. Most of the thefts have occurred on the two evenings in the week when there's live entertainment happening in town and cruisers dinghy in from the anchorage to join the revelry. The owner of Eddy's Edge Water bar and restaurant - home of a popular "Rake 'N Scrape" band - was puzzled over the sparse attendance at his regular Monday night event. When he learned of the dinghy incidents, he commented, "I'll have to look into this." He added, ominously, "I think we'll be able to deal with it." On an island with a population of only four thousand, there aren't too many secrets.
By most counts, last week's meeting was considered a success. Corporal Strachan impressed everyone with his concern and willingness to act. He promised to consult with the local businessmen and enlist their assistance. The owners of the largest supermarket and the dinghy dock where most of the crimes have occurred, reported that they had just installed enhanced lighting and a security surveillance camera on the dock. Chairman Ron quelled the few cries for vigilante justice and got the cruisers talking positively about preventive measures we can all take to discourage any more thefts.
In the days since the meeting there have been no further reports of security problems. That's good. We like going to Rake 'N Scrape at Eddy's, but aren't too enthusiastic about the prospect of a late night row across the harbour.