The armed robbery of 17 Celebrity Mercury passengers aboard a cruise-sponsored island tour on St. Kitts on Nov. 14 triggered an immediate response, both from government officials and the community at large, which supplied leads that helped result in four arrests. The incident prompted Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Miracle and Princess Cruises' Grand Princess to bypass St. Kitts for Antigua that week. Celebrity also pulled its Essential St. Kitts land tour off its roster indefinitely. Minister of Tourism and International Transport Ricky Skerritt discussed the security measures enacted in the wake of the robberies and the impact on tourism with Caribbean Editor Gay Nagle Myers.
Q: Government authorities said the robbery was an isolated incident. How isolated?
A: This incident was completely unprecedented. We have had an impressive track record of safety for our visitors up until this incident. Managing emerging crime in the local community is an ongoing challenge for St. Kitts and all Caribbean islands.
Q: What security measures have been enacted since the robberies?
A: While we have always had some police presence in the more heavily touristed parts of the island, the security forces have increased the number of uniformed officers and tactical patrols. Increased security already was in place when Celebrity Summit called the day after the robbery. The wooded area on the section of road where the robbers hid in advance of the incident has since been pruned and thinned out, and improved security patrols are in place. A comprehensive plan issued by the Police High Command specifically addressed methods of minimizing the risk of further incidents of this sort.
Q: How important is cruise business to St. Kitts?
A: The cruise sector is very important and has grown at an impressive rate in the past four years, going from less than 200,000 passengers in 2005 to more than half a million in 2009. Before this incident, we had expected this season to grow by a further 20%, to 600,000 cruise arrivals. Our survey results show that onshore spends per passenger as well as satisfaction levels also are increasing.
Q: What about the cruise lines?
A: No additional port calls have been canceled. Carnival sent security officers to visit the robbery scene and other tour venues to see what is being done to minimize risk. I believe that they saw evidence of a speedy and effective response. We met with the cruise passengers three hours after the robbery to express our regrets. We support the efforts of the local tour operator to arrange full compensation for the passengers' losses.
Q: The community jumped in to help the police with tips and leads. That's positive reinforcement of the importance of the tourism industry on St. Kitts. How do you account for this?
A: Our local citizens showed sympathy for the victims, outrage over the incident and overwhelming support for the police in their investigations. Many of us see this incident as a wakeup call for our country. Locals responded with numerous phone calls to the police department and to Minister of National Security Sam Condor to provide leads that ultimately led to the arrest of four persons. Condor spoke for all of us when he likened the incident to sabotage against the economy and treason against the nation.
Q: What's your message to agents?
A: St. Kitts always has been known as a hospitable and safe tourist destination, and we are taking decisive steps to ensure that this incident remains an isolated one.