Crime is a curse the world over – whether violence or theft, smuggling or fraud – there are very few places untouched by crime and the knock on concerns it brings. For seafarers that can mean the vessel being under threat, but so too on the rare opportunity they have for shore leave, they too can be targeted. We look at the implications for crime in port or when joining a ship and offer you 10 safety tips.
What are your top tips for avoiding becoming a crime statistic? Have you had any particularly frightening experiences in any ports?
Perhaps it is when going ashore or arriving in a new unfamiliar country to join a vessel that seafarers are actually under most threat of attack or of being robbed, duped or taken for a ride.
Wherever seafarers go, there is always some form of threat. While issues such as piracy or terrorism capture the headlines, it is actually the more mundane threats which are far more likely.
In some places there are obvious and well known risks and there are precautions that everyone should take. While elsewhere the problems can be unknown and unexpected.
So wherever you are going, before leaving, during the journey and while there it is important to take the necessary measures to find out what can go wrong, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t.
Sadly safety and security rules tend to stop at the gangway – once you leave the ship, or before joining there is a feeling that the paperwork, risk assessments and notices don’t really apply.
So it is easy for seafarers to feel a little bit uneasy and unsure. The world is a big place, and it would be very difficult to develop a one-size-fits-all approach – but there are certain mind-sets which can help keep seafarers safe.
Perhaps the most potent philosophy is to expect the unexpected. Wariness and vigilance are really important when it comes to safety and security. Accepting that bad things can happen, and being on guard against them is a really vital starting point.
You are at the lobby of a hotel just checking in to await the arrival of the ship – the 2nd Mate you are joining with yells over, “Hey, what room are you in?” What should you do…shout back the number or say nothing?
The best answer, according to security experts: is definitely not to shout or say it. You don’t know who may be listening with the idea of targeting you or your hotel room.
That is the kind of defensive mind-set which can help when travelling. Just being smart and not helping those that would like to rob or attack you. Even during seemingly harmless interactions “situational awareness” is really important.
The need to maintain situational awareness extends to every minute you are in unfamiliar, potentially dangerous conditions. Whether walking down a street, riding a bus or taxi, or shopping in a crowded market… keeping your wits about you could save your wallet, maybe even your life.
You don’t have to be paranoid, fearful or full of dread – just relax but with a sense of that which can go wrong. Be smart, careful and cautious.
To decrease the chances of being a target of a criminal there are three things to really focus on, these are:
1. Body language
If you look like you know what you’re doing and where you are going you are a lot less likely to be targeted. Confidence is key, look like you would not be a good person to target!
1. Research: Knowledge is power – know where you are going, read up on problems or issues there. It is also handy to consult a map before arriving, just to have some loose bearings and sense of direction.
2. Transport: In a new place public transportation can be hazardous or expose you to different kinds of threats. If possible find a cab, but not some unsolicited car service: Never accept transportation from a person who first approaches you at the airport, grabs your bags and says they have a car waiting.
3. Hotels: Usually the better the hotel the better the protection for guests. It doesn’t always work that way, and sometimes high profile, well known hotels can actually become targets themselves. In the main though, a good quality, well known chain will keep you safe. When checking in, there are some floors which are safer than others. So always try to get a room on floors 2-8. A room on the ground floor will be more easily accessible to criminals from the outside, while if you are too high you can be trapped in a fire or attack.
4. Dressing safely: Do your research and emulate locals and how they dress. That doesn’t mean donning a dish dash in Dubai – just look like you are relaxed and know the place. Also, wearing t-shirts with company logos emblazoned can scream identity and make you a target. Avoid drawing attention to yourself.
5. Instincts: Trust your instincts and don’t venture through side streets, even if it seems like a convenient shortcut. Criminals like to strike in uncrowded areas. Stick to busier areas if possible.
6. Look Alert: Robbers often target the weak and also like the element of surprise. So look up and around. Engage people – walking around with your head in your smartphone is an invitation to attack you…and you may get run over too. Stay frosty out there people.
7. Watches and Phones: Leave the fancy trinkets at home. The streets are no place for your Rolex…you are not impressing anyone other than the thieves. This also goes for phones – they are desirable, and so you will be targeted.
8. Wallet: Don’t carry any more credit cards than you need. Leave things you don’t want to carry in the hotel safe, or in a locked drawer in your cabin. The more you carry, the more you stand to lose. Keep it in front pocket – preferably zipped. It is also worth carrying two wallets – splitting your cash can mean only losing half.
9. Gun Crime: If the worst happens, and it can, you need to try and remain calm while taking in your options. If someone orders you or tries to force you into a car, you have to try and do all possible to stay out of the vehicle. Make a noise if possible, try to flee – just do not get in. If you are approached by someone with a gun the options are pretty simple…”give and go”. Chuck them your watch or wallet, whatever they may want, and then run – like you have never run before, through in the odd zig zag too, while yelling as loud as you can.
The chances are they will not be interested in pursuing a fast moving, screaming person.
Will they shoot? Well that is 50-50, will they hit you if they do? Well again that is 50-50. If they do hit you will they kill you…yup 50/50 on that…so the faster and further you run the better the odds with every step.
10. Paperwork: Look after your passport, air tickets and other valuables. Keep them in a safe place and have photocopies if possible. You should take photos and have them stored in an email address which you can access from anywhere – so consider setting up a Hotmail or Gmail account for just that purpose. You should also keep a list of key contacts easily accessible.