By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
A DAMNING report by US authorities has blasted New Providence's criminal threat level as "critical" - and for the first time rated Grand Bahama's level as "high", putting the island on a par with the Dominican Republic.
Highlighting several incidents of violent crime involving tourists or tourist locations, the US State Department's 2012 Crime and Safety Report charged that the dramatic increase in crime last year has adversely affected the travelling public.
"In previous years, most violent crimes involved mainly Bahamian citizens and occurred in 'over-the-hill' areas, which are not frequented by tourists," the report stated.
"However, in 2011 there were numerous incidents reported that involved tourists or have occurred in areas in tourist locations.
It continued: "In late 2011, there have been numerous reports by cruise ship tourists and others regarding incidents of armed robberies of cash and jewellery. These incidents were reported during daylight and nighttime hours. In several cases, the victims were robbed at knifepoint, and gold necklaces and jewellery were taken. Cash for Gold is a new business in The Bahamas that may have resulted in the increase of these type of crimes."
Drafted to assist American travellers and businesses, the annual report addresses crime threats, road safety, medical emergencies, safety tips in countries that have established US embassies, and includes other relevant data affecting travellers such as political violence and environmental hazards.
Criminal threat levels are ranked as low, medium, high or critical.
Commonly referred to as the country's "second city", Grand Bahama has a population of just under 52,000. The Dominican Republic, also categorized as "high" this year, has a population of 9.9 million.
Other countries in the region also categorized as "critical" are: El Salvador, Guyana, and Ecuador. With a population of 6.1 million, El Salvador was described as one of the most violent countries in the world by the state department.
The report read: "The US Embassy has received reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, in diverse areas such as casinos, outside hotels, or on cruise ships. In several incidents, the victim had been reportedly drugged."
It added: "The upsurge in criminal activity has also led to incidents, which, while not directed at tourists, could place innocent bystanders at risk."
Citing The Bahamas' long history as a route and major transshipment point for illegal smugglers and drug traffickers, the report warned US companies against conducting business with "questionable persons or enterprises."
The report also noted that there is minimal enforcement of environmental standards "although The Bahamas prides itself on keeping the country clean."
Calls placed to Ministers of Tourism and Grand Bahama, Obie Wilchcombe and Dr Michael Darville, respectively, were not returned yesterday.