Another Violent Crime Reported in Roatan Island – What this Means for Guests Considering a Cruise Vacation (Part 1)

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

HondurasCruising should be a relaxing venture. One where guests can take a break from the stress of everyday life and enjoy their vacation doing as much – or as little – as they like. But while many travelers book cruise vacations in the hopes of unwinding and exploring new destinations, the unfortunate reality is that cruising these days can often be far from enjoyable.

Though we wish it weren’t so, every maritime attorney at our firm can tell you nightmarish stories of what really goes on behind closed doors aboard a cruise ship. Despite the fact that technology has improved drastically over the years, as well as the fact that maritime laws have become stricter, aiming to improve onboard safety for cruise travelers (and crew members), a greater number of accidents and crimes are taking place both on board a ship and in foreign ports.

The other day, our maritime lawyers blogged about some of the many actions cruise lines can take to improve safety on board ships, such as providing better and more comprehensive training for all crew members, hiring staff with a specific security background as well as equipping all ships with better surveillance technology. But while there are numerous things cruise operators can do to offer a safer shipboard environment for guests and crew, there’s not much cruise lines can do to improve safety in a foreign port, short of ceasing port calls altogether.

Many of the ports cruise ships call upon are nations were crime rates are extremely high. To a cruiser, the port may seem exotic and mysterious, but in reality, some of these popular destinations – especially those in the Caribbean – are often plagued with violent crimes. And though cruise lines often do advise guests to steer clear of certain “trouble” areas in port, suggesting venues that are closer to port, crime can happen anywhere and at any time.

Both cruise guests and crew members have been victimized by criminals in these foreign ports, often becoming the targets of theft, armed robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping. And one of the ports where we’ve seen some of the highest crime rates is in Roatan Island, Honduras.

Roatan has been in the news quite a bit recently. Back in April, we reported on the tragic death of a Norwegian Cruise Lines crew member who was fatally shot during a robbery very close to port. We also reported on another robbery crime, this time involving a gang that was targeting tourists in Roatan. Armed with guns and other weapons, the gang members would threaten cruise travelers and other tourists and steal their valuables, including cash, cell phones and cameras.

Though the gunman who fatally shot the NCL crew member and the ringleader of the gang were brought into custody, these terrible incidents demonstrate how easily anyone can become the victim of a crime ashore. Even the US Department of State issued two reports, titled “Honduras Travel Warning” (last updated in June), warning those visiting Honduras of the escalating crime rates.

The latest warning stresses that the “level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high”, and notes that the nation “lacks the resources to address these issues.”

The warning also explains that Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world since 2010, with the Honduran Ministry of Security reporting a homicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000 people in 2013.

NCL pulled out of Roatan shortly after the death of the crew member, but at this point, perhaps all cruise lines should follow suit. Though ships often stop calling on a port after a tragedy, they usually resume regular operations within a week or two.

A few days ago, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández took a stand to improve safety in the nation, and banned guns in Roatan and the Bay Islands. But while a valiant effort on his part, it appears that violent crime rates in Honduras may have reached a level that is beyond the local government’s ability to control, following reports of a recent shooting.

Find out more about the incident in the second installment of our two-part blog series.