KINGSTON, Jamaica -- The Jamaican government said it will begin deploying military troops in or near resort areas as a deterrent to crime and harassment targeted at foreign visitors.

Adrian Robinson, chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board, said, "We support any activities that work to insure that criminal activity and harassment are not directed at our visitors." He added that troops will be "carefully and strategically located to send a clear message of 'hands off tourists' to potential criminals."

The government's plan also was endorsed by Sandals Resorts, which has seven inclusive properties throughout Jamaica, and by the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association. Cruise lines that have scheduled port calls in Jamaica said they are seeking a greater presence of visible police at dockside (see sidbar, below).

Although specific details were being worked out, the deployment could take effect as early as this week, officials said, and will be concentrated along the island's resort-studded north shore, home to several Sandals and SuperClubs resorts, among others. The 180-mile coastline stretches from Negril to Port Antonio.

Neither the number of soldiers involved in the action nor any determination regarding whether they would be in uniform had been released.

The deployment follows two high-profile incidents against tourists.

In December, 14 German tourists were held up and robbed on a tour bus excursion near Montego Bay. One month earlier, 18 German visitors were robbed on a Jamaican tour bus near Port Maria, east of Ocho Rios.

John Lynch, Sandals' executive vice president of sales worldwide, said, "The most important factor for our guests is that they feel secure while on vacation." Sandals' reservations agents have fielded questions from several tour operators and agents regarding the announcement, but no cancellations have been reported.

Tourism is Jamaica's top industry, attracting more than 1.2 million foreign visitors last year, up 3% over 1997 figures, according to the tourist board.

Jamaica's crime figures have decreased in recent years, down from 380 incidents against visitors in 1989 to under 200 incidents last year. Harassment, however, is so widespread that Jamaica drastically raised fines last year to $2,700, up from $27, for a first-time offense, and $4,100 for repeat offenses.

Cruise officials support dockside police presence

By Ernest Blum

MIAMI -- Cruise line officials whose ships call at Jamaica, principally Ocho Rios, said they are concerned about crime and harassment against their passengers and are seeking a greater presence of law enforcement at dockside.

Florida Caribbean Cruise Association officials planned to discuss the matter at an association meeting this week, said Matthew Sams, a Holland America vice president and head of the association's security/operations committee.

Cruise line officials said that their concern stems mostly from harassment by panhandlers, beggars, trinket dealers and drug pushers.

Ships calling in Jamaica routinely advise passengers not to wander off the beaten path. They often advise clients to book an organized shore excursion or take a taxi to the main shopping area.

Executives noted that more visitors will arrive at Jamaica's port once the 100,000-ton-plus megaships enter service in the Caribbean. Royal Caribbean International's Voyage of the Seas, for example, will begin calling on Ocho Rios with its inaugural cruise from Miami on Nov. 21, joining the line's Majesty of the Seas.

With both ships calling in Ocho Rios on Wednesdays, the line will deposit upwards of 5,000 to 6,000 passengers on the island's shores. A spokesman for Royal Caribbean said that Ocho Rios authorities have begun cordoning off the dock area to keep peddlers away from disembarking passengers. "But we're looking for a greater presence of visible police," he said.

The spokesman, who noted that fewer passengers go ashore in Jamaica than in any other Caribbean port, added, "We encourage the passengers to stay in well populated areas."

Carnival Cruise Lines' Destiny currently visits Ocho Rios, and it will be joined by the Triumph when that ship makes its inaugural voyage from Miami on Oct. 23. The Paradise also calls on the port, and the Celebration recently began sailing there from New Orleans.

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