United States residents traveling to the Bahamas should exercise “extreme caution” in Nassau in the wake of 18 murders since Jan. 1, the State Department said in a new travel advisory.
“Murders have occurred in all hours including in broad daylight on the streets,” according to a security alert that was posted on Jan. 24 by the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas.
Retaliatory gang violence has been the primary motive, the alert said.
The embassy urged travelers to:
Exercise extreme caution in the eastern part of New Providence Island (Nassau).
Use caution when walking or driving at night.
Keep a low profile.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
Review your personal security plans.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department posted a travel advisory with additional information, specifying that the majority of crime occurs on New Providence (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport) islands.
“In Nassau, practice increased vigilance in the “Over the Hill” area (south of Shirley Street) where gang-on-gang violence has resulted in a high homicide rate primarily affecting the local population,” the advisory said. “Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas. Be vigilant when staying at short-term vacation rental properties where private security companies do not have a presence.”
Prior to the warnings by the U.S. government, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis pledged that his administration will respond to the uptick in murders with “more intrusive policing” that will likely affect residents, according to The Nassau Guardian website.
“We will not violate anyone’s civil liberties, but you are likely to be impacted by more roadblocks and unannounced police action.
“This may make you late for your appointments, or delay plans you have, but this is a small price to pay for the collective benefit of having our streets made safer, and our lives less blighted by murder and other violent crimes.”
On Monday, the website quoted Davis as insisting The Bahamas remains a safe place for visitors.
It noted that none of the murders involved any visitor to the Bahamas and that the islands remain at a Level 2 alert status, which it has been for a long time. There are four alert levels issued by the State Department: Level 1 (exercise normal precautions); Level 2 (exercise increased caution); Level 3 (reconsider travel) and Level 4 (do not travel).
Other destinations with Level 2 status — because of crime or threats of terrorism — include Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Denmark, India, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
U.S. tourists regularly visit the Bahamas from Florida, including by air, cruise ships and charter boats. Cruise lines operating out of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach and Port Canaveral travel to the islands numerous times a week.
Two of those cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, have not announced any itinerary changes in response to the advisories.
“The safety of our guests and crew is our top priority,” a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said. “Our global security teams are closely monitoring the situation in the area. At all times, we remind guests to remain aware of their surroundings while ashore and follow all State Department guidelines. Should any changes be required, guests will be notified directly.”
A Carnival Cruise Lines spokesperson issued a similar statement, saying that the cruise line routinely monitors its destinations and keeps in close contact with government and law enforcement officials.
“We continue to consult with embassy officials and our security team has determined we can continue with our planned visits to Nassau, which has enhanced policing of tourist areas,” the Carnival spokesperson said. “The safety of our guests and crew is our priority, and when any adjustments to itineraries are deemed necessary, we will react quickly.”
This is not the first travel advisory that the State Department has issued for the Bahamas.
In April 2022, the embassy issued a similar warning after four armed robberies in a month were reported in Nassau, including on or near a site with short-term vacation rental properties without private security. That report also noted an increase in gang-related homicides in areas “generally not frequented by tourists.”
In August 2019, the State Department warned that “violent crime such as burglaries, armed robberies and sexual assault is common, even during the day and in tourist areas” of Grand Bahama and New Providence islands.
Specifically, it warned that activities involving commercial recreational watercraft, including water tours, are not consistently regulated and said personal-watercraft operators “have been known to commit sexual assaults against tourists.”
That alert also urged tourists to exercise extreme caution in areas that included “Over the Hill” and the “Fish Fry” at Arawak Cay in Nassau. It cited numerous reports of tourists being robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint.
Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at [email protected].