By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A major cruise line yesterday “blindsided” a Cabinet minister by warning its passengers that the Arawak Cay Fish Fry was a “particular area of concern” for crime.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, pictured, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas probably needs to create “a working group forum” to address the cruise industry’s crime concerns after a Royal Caribbean captain warned his passengers “that Nassau has been experiencing an increase in crime”.
Captain Srecko Ban, in a letter to Anthem of the Seas passengers that was dated yesterday, wrote: “We feel it is important to make our guests aware that Nassau has been experiencing an increase in crime. Non-violent crimes, such as theft of personal items, are the most common types of crimes being committed.”
The Royal Caribbean captain’s letter, which was published on a well-known cruise industry website, conceded that “thousands of visitors routinely travel to Nassau without incident” before offering personal safety tips.
These included leaving “valuables and irreplaceable items” in the cabin safe; avoiding expensive jewellery and flashing cash; and taking only the cash and credit cards that are required.
However, Captain Ban then added: “We recommend guests not venture too far from tourist areas and consider participating in an organised tour. Particular areas of concern include the Sand Trap, the Fish Fry and other areas of Nassau referred to as ‘Over-the-Hill’ by locals, which should be avoided after sunset.”
The Royal Caribbean letter appears to mirror, and regurgitate, the concerns outlined in the US State Department’s January 2018 travel advisory on The Bahamas, which also urged American visitors to stay clear of the Arawak Cay Fish Fry - a major hub where tourists can experience Bahamian culture and cuisine.
That warning provoked a major outcry from Arawak Cay vendors and the Association that represents them, which branded it unjustified and a major threat to their business livelihoods because it represented a potential deterrent to visiting tourists.
The Royal Caribbean letter is likely to spark similar push back, since it potentially costs vendors thousands of dollars in cruise line spending, with the episode illustrating the continued negative impact that the US advisory is having.
The timing of the Anthem of the Seas letter could also not be worse from the perspective of downtown Nassau retailers, restaurants and others who rely on the cruise industry for a living, as it coincides with the key after-Christmas shopping period. It also highlights why many passengers may decline to leave their vessel when it is docked in Nassau.
The warning’s issuance also comes with Royal Caribbean being one of four cruise lines involved in the bidding to take over management/operations at Nassau’s cruise port, the industry-grouping having partnered with Cruise Ports International - the Bahamian group formerly known as Cultural Village (Bahamas), headed by ex-Family Guardian president Gerald Strachan.
Mr D’Aguilar, when contacted by Tribune Business yesterday, said that while he “obviously disagrees” with Royal Caribbean’s warning about the Arawak Cay Fish Fry the rest of the letter’s contents were “not particularly troubling”.
Suggesting that it largely amounted to the sort of “safety tips” issued to visitors to any world city, the Minister nevertheless expressed displeasure about not previously being informed about the cruise line’s advisory and questioned whether Captain Ban had ever visited the Fish Fry or knew where it was located.
“I don’t like to be blindsided by these reports and letters,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “I’m sure he [Captain Ban] has never been to the Fish Fry and does not know where it is, but he is opining on the face of it, which is why it is important that the Ministry of Tourism create a forum to address these concerns, and some of these myths that have grown up over the years and become embedded in their DNA.
“I haven’t heard about any complaints, I’ve not heard of any issues with the Fish Fry. I hate to be blindsided by these reports that are not brought to our attention. The captain of this boat says the Fish Fry is unsafe. I don’t know what he apparently knows.”
Mr D’Aguilar said his ministry was constantly speaking to senior cruise industry executives, adding that the concerns raised in the Royal Caribbean letter had “never been once mentioned” in conversation with them.
But, as a result of the Anthem of the Seas letter, he added that the Ministry of Tourism may now have to examine how it can reach out to cruise ship directors, pursers and captains given that they were responsible for putting out advisories to thousands of The Bahamas’ visitors.
“It’s very difficult to meet with people on the front line of these cruise companies,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “It’s the captain, the cruise director who we need to convince that Nassau is safe.
“The senior executives say all the right things to us, but the reality on the ground is the front line people are not preaching from the same hymn sheet. We need to reach out to those people on the front line telling passengers these concerns
“There are 10,000 passengers that come to Nassau on any given day, and I’m sure 9,999 of them don’t have a problem,” Mr D’Aguilar continued. “But, of course, we focus on the one.
“I don’t know of any major or significant crime happening to a cruise passenger in quite some time. I don’t know about petty crime, but in my humble opinion Nassau is as safe as any other city, and the cruise companies are putting out this generic warning for Nassau as cover in the odd chance it does happen.”
The Minister said Nassau was “as safe as any American city” for visitors, and suggested The Bahamas would have to assemble a working group to address the cruise industry’s concerns in much the same way it dealt with the US Embassy’s fears on the same topic.
He acknowledged, though, that The Bahamas could help itself by having a greater police presence on the ground in downtown Nassau and other tourist areas to provide greater reassurance to visitors and Bahamians alike.
“If I had to give some constructive criticism, I would say provide a greater police presence on the ground in the city of Nassau,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “There’s room to put boots on the ground to give people sufficient comfort that they feel safe.
“I don’t know if there’s resources available, but we’ve been asking for a presence for some time - persons on Prince George Wharf, Junkanoo Beach, downtown. The crime is so miniscule that police think: ‘What’s the point?’, but it’s a small price to pay based on the number of cruise passengers that come to our country every day.”
While admitting that this point was controversial, Mr D’Aguilar said constant media coverage of murder and mayhem away from the tourist areas, and which was not impacting visitors, was also threatening to undermine perceptions of The Bahamas.