Saturday, March 31, 2012

Philippines: Miami-Based Cruise-ship Headed to Malaysia After Engine Fire

The Miami-based Azamara Quest, which is operated by Azamara Club Cruises (and owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.), was temporarily stranded off the southern coast of the Philippines on Saturday (March 31) after a fire disabled its engines and injured five crew members.

The vessel, carrying some 600 passengers and a crew of 400+ is now underway to the port of Sandakan, in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah after the fire was extinguished. The ship is operating under minimal emergency power and is being escorted by a Philippine Navy ship. When the ship reaches Malaysian waters, the Malaysian Coast Guard will escort the cruise-ship to Sandakan.

COMMENT: The remainder of the cruise has been canceled. Consequently, the cruise-line is helping the passengers, mostly Americans and Western Europeans, with onward reservations.

The fire at sea was the latest in a string of cruise ship accidents. Thirty-two people died when the "Costa Concordia" ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January and a fire on the "Costra Allegra" left the ship stranded in waters patrolled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days in February. Both ships were run by Costa Crociere, SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator.

Additionally, see my posting of February 24, 2012, which describes the robbery of 22 Carnival passengers in Mexico, while on a line-sponsored jungle hike.

The "Azamara Quest" was on a 17-night cruise and had departed Hong Kong on Monday (March 23) with port calls to Manila, Balikpapan (Borneo), Palapo (Sulawesi), Benoa Bali, Semarang and Komodo in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Also see my numerous postings on how to select a safe and healthy cruise-ship.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Update/Puerto Rico: FBI Veteran to Head Up Police Force

As I had intimated in yesterday's posting, a former director of the FBI office based in Puerto Rico was nominated on March 29 to lead Puerto Rico's 17,000-member police force, which US justice officials have accused of corruption, illegal killings, police misconduct and civil rights violations.

The nomination of Hector Pesquera, 65, came just hours after retired US Army National Guard major general and incumbent chief of police Emilio Díaz Colón resigned.

"Hector Pesquera has the knowledge, the experience, the leadership, the commitment and a proven track record to successfully lead our police department," said Gov. Luis Fortuño, who is seeking a second term in this year's upcoming general elections in which crime has been a dominant issue.

The Senate, which is controlled by Fortuño's pro-statehood party, is expected to soon approve Pesquera's nomination.

COMMENT: In December 1995, Pesquera was the first Puerto Rican appointed to lead the local FBI office. He had been with the agency for 27 years before retiring in December 2003. He most recently served as assistant director for Miami's Port Authority. We wish Mr. Pesquera every bit of success in his new appointment.

Useful Website to Improve Spanish Fluency

As a Spanish speaker, and for the benefit of our regular readers, a useful website offers a no-cost daily method of improving your Spanish:

Once you register with the site, a daily email will be sent to your in-box that includes a series of words and phrases designed to expand your vocabulary and knowledge of Spanish grammar.

Egypt: US Department of State Issues Travel Alert for Upcoming Presidential Election

The US Department of State has issued a travel alert to its citizens who will be traveling to or living in Egypt during the upcoming presidential election, a period that may well prompt political unrest and street violence.

Egypt will hold the first round of presidential elections May 23-24, 2012, and if needed, a second round June 16-17, 2012. The new president is scheduled to take office no later than June 30, 2012.

Political rallies and demonstrations are likely to occur in the period leading up to and following the elections and during the drafting of a new constitution. In the past year, demonstrations have degenerated on occasion into violent clashes between police and protesters, in some instances resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. US citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security.

The security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, and the Red Sea Resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, continues to be calm. This Travel Alert supersedes the Travel Alert dated November 7, 2011, and updates information on the security situation and upcoming elections. This Travel Alert expires June 30, 2012.

Chad: US Department of State Discourages Travel to Eastern Chad, Border Regions

The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of travel to Chad and recommends that they avoid all travel to eastern Chad and border regions. High levels of violent crime and a continuing risk of clashes between the Chadian government and armed groups exist in these areas.

In particular, there is a heightened risk of carjacking and kidnapping for ransom within these conflict zones. The US Embassy in Chad has prohibited travel by official US government personnel to all areas outside the capital, N’Djamena, and its immediate environs without express advance authorization.

US citizens affiliated with humanitarian relief efforts should review security precautions and consider measures to mitigate exposure to violent crime. US citizens residing in Chad should exercise caution throughout the country. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Chad dated August 16, 2011, to make note of a change in the Embassy's policy toward minor dependents, and to update US citizens on the current security situation in Chad.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Puerto Rico: National Chief of Police Resigns Amid Unchecked Crime Wave

Puerto Rico's national police chief resigned late on Wednesday (March 28), less than a year after being appointed to lead a department that US federal agents have accused of corruption, illegal killings and civil rights violations.

The resignation of Emilio Díaz Colón, a retired US National Guard major general, came amid criticism that he did little to prevent an unprecedented 1,100 homicides last year [2011] in a US territory of 4 million, despite an island-wide police force of 17,000.

COMMENT: When Diaz Colón was appointed police chief in early July 2011, following the abrupt resignation of former chief of police José Figueroa Sancha, he was criticized for saying that he had no plans to change how the department operated.

Unfortunately, the chief never presented a plan to combat crime, despite numerous requests from legislators. He also rarely communicated with the media.

In retrospect, Governor Luis G. Fortuño, a republican, probably erred in selecting General Díaz Colón, who knew little about policing in a high-crime environment. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for the Governor to have selected a native-born Puerto Rican with impeccable US-based law enforcement credentials, but that was not the case.

Unfortunately, the out-of-control crime crisis in Puerto Rico could very well jeopardize Governor Fortuño being reelected as governor in 2012. He would be well-advised to act promptly to select a respected executive-level law enforcement professional with US experience, who could not only neutralize violent crime on the island, but additionally clean out corruption, which is an inhibitor to crime control.

In September 2011, the US Justice Department issued a scathing report demanding that Puerto Rico's police officials improve their department, accusing it of widespread misconduct and official corruption.

Indonesia: Governmental Task Force Considers Banning Skirts Above the Knees

The Indonesian government's controversial anti-pornography task force, headed by Suryadharma, is now working on measures to address a broad definition of pornography, which could potentially translate to dictating how women dress, as well as the length of their skirts. Commenting further, Suryadharma said yesterday (March 28) that skirts should go below the knees.

Masruchah, a woman, and the deputy head of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), immediately slammed the proposed legislation, calling it a violation of women’s rights. She added that sexual harassment and assault had nothing to do with legal definitions.

After a series of sexual assaults on public minivans last year, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo was criticized for telling women not to wear short skirts or pants when taking public transportation. He later apologized, but not before women donned miniskirts in a rally to protest his remarks.

In all of Indonesia, only Aceh, which applies Shariah law, regulates women’s clothing by making headscarves mandatory. West Aceh district went even further in 2010, banning women from wearing tight pants.

COMMENT: The creation of the anti-pornography task force, which is supposed to enforce the controversial 2008 law banning pornography, was greeted with a barrage of criticism and scorn, with many accusing the government of having lost sight of its priorities.

Additionally, given the large number of non-Muslim foreign women who visit and live in Indonesia, particularly outside Aceh, enforcement of any codified law against the length of women's skirts could prove to be unenforceable and discriminatory.

Arizona: Irish Tourist Killed, Several Others Injured in Head-on Collision

A two-vehicle auto collision in northwestern Arizona on Tuesday (March 27) left one person dead and several others injured. A Mohave County Sheriff's Department spokesperson said all three occupants of one of the vehicles were tourists from Ireland.

Deputies responded to the scene on Diamond Bar Road south of Meadview around 1540 hours after a Chevrolet Malibu traveling at 8o-85 mph eastbound crossed over the center line and struck a Toyota Corolla occupied by a husband and wife from Rutherford, NJ.

The 39-year-old right rear passenger in the Malibu died at the scene. The driver and front seat passenger were both injured and were taken to a Las Vegas hospital.

COMMENT: The 70-year-old driver of the Toyota suffered broken ribs and a fractured hip while the driver's wife sustained abdominal injuries. Both are listed in critical condition, after being evacuated by air from the accident scene to Sunrise Medical Center in Las Vegas.

The accident remains under investigation. As this posting is filed, it is unknown as to what caused the driver of the Malibu to cross the center-line and collide with the Toyota. Presumably both drivers will be subject to blood alcohol analysis.

Bermuda: Assailants Sentenced in Attack on Canadian

Two locals in Hamilton, Jermaine Usher, 20, and Almir Waldron, 18, who physically knocked Canadian tourist, Ryan Emms, 31, off his moped on July 7, 2011, and stole his possessions were sentenced by the Hamilton Parish magistrate's court on Tuesday (March 27).

Usher received three months in jail, while Waldron was given two years' probation and a suspended sentence of corrective training.

COMMENT: Considering that Emms sustained deep wounds to his left leg and ankle, not to mention lost time for rehabilitation and additional time spent in Bermuda for treatment, three months in jail for Usher and probation for Waldron seems to be inequitable.

It should also be noted that nearly a year after the attack, Emms still does not have full use of his leg.

The two Bermudians targeted Emms as he rode back from Tobacco Bay along North Shore Road in Hamilton Parish. They rode up alongside him and knocked him off his bike into the coral wall as they grabbed for his bag. The two men escaped with Emms' knapsack containing $120 cash, his snorkeling gear and his camera.

News accounts made no reference to the fact as to whether Emms received his property and money back or whether he was compensated by the Government of Bermuda for his treatment and additional time on the island, including returning to Bermuda in January 2012 to testify at Usher's trial.

Fortunately, the Government of Bermuda does have a crime victim compensation program. We can only hope that Mr. Emms was compensated for his travel, expenses and medical treatment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Update/Florida: Shawn Tyson Found Guility in Murders of British Tourists

As a follow-up to my earlier posting today (March 28), a Sarasota jury has convicted Shawn Tyson, 17, of two counts of first degree murder for the shooting deaths of British nationals James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, on April 16, 2011, when the two tourists accidentally wandered into a high-crime area known as Newtown.

COMMENT: After an eight-day trial, the jury deliberated for only two hours before reaching their verdict. Inasmuch as Tyson is under the age of 18, the judge is expected to give the teen a mandatory life sentence.

Tyson initially attempted to rob the two Britons, but when they had no money, he summarily shot and killed them.

Although nothing can bring Messrs. Cooper and Kouzaris back, it is hoped that Tyson will never see the light of day.

Yemen: US Government Advises US Citizens Against Travel, Urges Those There to Depart

Effective March 27, 2012, the US Department of State warns its citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.

Additionally, the Department urges US citizens to NOT travel to Yemen. For US citizens currently in Yemen, it urges them to LEAVE the country.

Effective September 1, 2011, the Department of State lifted the Ordered Departure status for US government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a. Yet, the embassy remains a restricted staffing post. Hence, the Embassy's ability to assist US citizens in an emergency remains limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.


Florida: Prosecution Rests in Murder Trial of Gunman Who Killed Two British Tourists

Prosecutors in Sarasota (FL) rested their case yesterday (March 27) in the murder trial of Shawn Tyson, 17, who has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, resulting in the deaths of British tourists James Kouzaris, 24, and James Cooper, 25, on April 16, 2011.

Kouzaris and Cooper, both good friends, were intoxicated when they wandered into a high-rime section of Sarasota known as Newtown and encountered the Defendant. They were in the US on vacation with Cooper's parents at the time of the shooting.

Initially, Tyson demanded money from the two tourists, but when they had none, they were summarily shot and killed.

Defense attorneys said they would spend about an hour and a half presenting witnesses today. (March 28). Closing arguments in the trial are expected later in the day. Tyson told the judge on Tuesday (March 27) that he would not testify in his own defense.

It is unclear as to how Kouzaris and Cooper ended up in a high-crime housing project, although presumably they had simply gotten lost.

COMMENT: Several of Tyson's friends said the teenager shot and killed Cooper and Kouzaris even though they claimed to be lost and pleaded for their lives.

On Tuesday, Marvin Gaines, another friend of Tyson's, took the stand and said he hid the gun and shell casings used in the crime — at Tyson's request.

Prosecutors also called a woman to the stand who said she saw Tyson three times with the same gun that was used in the crime. She said Tyson threatened her with the gun nine days before the tourist killings.

On April 7, 2011, Tyson had three different altercations with a group of people in the housing project where they all lived. That's when he allegedly brandished the handgun that he used in the murders of the two Britons.

Interestingly, Tyson was arrested on felony weapons charges and released from a juvenile detention center on April 15, less than 24 hours before the two tourists were killed.

Tyson will face life in prison if convicted.

It is strongly recommended that all visitors to the US have local friends circle on a city map those areas with reputations as being high-risk, so that they can be avoided.

Additionally, considering that judgment is often impaired by excessive drinking, it is suggested that all visitors abroad drink in moderation, so they can avoid situations where they can be taken advantage of.

New Zealand: Frenchwoman Robbed in Christchurch Backpacker's Room, Testifies Via Video-Link

A Frenchwoman told those in attendance at a Christchurch trial earlier today (March 28) that she recognized the lips of Defendant Mark Hetaraka, 33, who forced his way into the victim's backpacker's room and assaulted and robbed her last year [2011].

The victim, Marina Capaldi, testified via video link from France on the third day of the Christchurch District Court trial during which she said she remembered her assailant's lips.

COMMENT: Capaldi told the court under testimony that she had been asleep when there was a knock on the door of her room, at which point she opened the door to see who was there, only to have the Defendant, dressed in a black hoodie, force his way into her room, punch her, place bedclothes over her head and and steal her laptop, cellphone, passport, identity card, credit card and cash.

He also testified that he said he had a knife. Before leaving, he also told the victim that he was crazy and would not hesitate to kill her if he had to.

Hetaraka faces three robbery charges, all involving the robberies of foreign visitors from backpackers' rental accommodations.

The Crown and Defense will begin their closing addresses at 1000 hours on March 29.

We will keep our readers abreast of any developments in this case.

Crime against foreign tourists is a common occurrence in New Zealand. Hence, we urge visitors to exercise a high level of personal security awareness while traveling both in urban and rural areas.

Please note that New Zealand does have a crime victim compensation program:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Apologies on Reduced Postings

To each of our loyal readers:

I would like to apologize to each and every one of you. Unfortunately, I am currently in a location with very spotty Internet access, and hope that by Thursday, March 29, our regular postings will be back on-line, as well as a diverse assortment of filings.
Thanks for your understanding, Ed

Brazil: Gang of Women Kidnappers Arrested in Sao Paulo

Three members of a highly-organized, bilingual and well-educated gang of kidnappers, largely comprised of women, were arrested last weekend, including two women and a man. Often referred to as the "Gang of Blondes" in local media, the group began in 2008 with burglarizing high-end condos and then graduated to "express kidnapping" [abductions ranging from several hours to a few days], the group's tactic was to "tail" well-to-do shoppers in trendy malls and then abduct them as they approached their cars, later maxing out credit, debit and ATM cards while the targets were held. The group principally worked both Rio and Sao Paulo and is credited with some 54 "express kidnappinmgs."
COMMENT: Police in Sao Paulo have reportedly identified all six members of the group and hope to finalize arrests in coming days. Women have been used in conjunction with "express kidnappings" for years, but this is the first group in Latin America that has eluded police for so long. Visitors to both Rio and Sao Paulo are urged to "dress down" and avoid wearing expensive or expensive-looking jewelry.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mali: US Department of State Warns Its Citizens Against ALL Travel to Mali

Effective March 23, 2012, the US Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Mali at this time because of current political instability in the country, and continuing threats of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners in the north of the country.

Malian mutineers have taken control of the presidential palace and closed the country’s land borders and airport. Radio and television stations are off the air. The situation on the ground remains fluid and unpredictable. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mali dated March 16, 2012, to update information on current events in Mali.

On Wednesday, March 21, a protest march from Kati, a few miles outside of Bamako, to the Presidential Palace resulted in a military mutiny by a group of lower-level officers and enlisted men who declared themselves to be in charge of the country. This group detained, or attempted to detain, a number of government ministers and others. Law and order is not assured.

There are random reports of looting of gas stations and other businesses. A number of vehicles have been stopped and seized by the mutineers. While there has been no violence directed specifically against US citizens or westerners in general, the overall situation remains unsettled and potentially dangerous.

There have been sporadic reports of gunfire throughout the capital city of Bamako and other regional capitals, including Gao and Mopti-Sevare. The airport and all border crossings remain closed. The mutineers declared a curfew to be in effect until Tuesday, March 27, at 7:30 a.m. More precise details about the curfew have not been released. The Embassy advises US citizens presently in Mali to shelter in place until further notice.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Dominica: Two Americans Arrested, Fined $2,400 for Having Sex on Ship Balcony

American citizens John Robert Hart, 41, and Dennis K. Mayer, 43, pleaded guilty earlier today (March 23) to the charge of public indecency after they were arrested for having gay sex on a balcony of one of Celebrity Cruise's cruise-ships. They were fined $2,400 and were released following payment.

Unfortunately, for the two defendants, gay sex, known as "buggery" on the island, is also against Dominican law. Public indecency and having sex in view of the public are also against the law there. Police in Dominica were alerted to the behavior by witnesses on shore who could see the balcony. Police then boarded the ship, which was docked at the Roseau port, and arrested the men.

COMMENT: Hart and Mayer were part of a gay cruise group from California sponsored by Atlantis Events, which runs gay tourism trips around the world and markets itself as the running largest gay cruise entity in the world. The group chartered a Celebrity cruise-ship for the trip to Dominica.

The cruise ship departed the island Wednesday (March 21), following the duo's arrests and continued onto its next port-of-call at St. Bart's.

A lesson-learned from this case is to be cognizant of local law as it applies to various types of personal behavior. A simple internet search could have revealed vital information that might well have headed-off the stiff fines the passengers were forced to pay.

Another option might well have been to curtail such activities until the vessel was safely underway at sea.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yemen: al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Assassination of American Teacher

The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda told the media earlier today (March 22) that it carried out the assassination of American teacher Joel Shrum, 29, because he was attempting to spread Christianity there.

Shrum, a native of Mount Joy, PA, was gunned down on Sunday (March 18) in the central city of Taiz, where he had been living with his wife and two sons. He was studying Arabic and teaching English at a language institute.

COMMENT: Al-Qaeda's original claim of responsibility was contained on a militant website, comes as the now decentralized terror group seeks to exploit the political turmoil in the Arab world's most impoverished nation.

Shrum had worked at the International Training and Development Center in Taiz (Yemen's third-largest city, population 600,000), which is one of the oldest foreign language institutes in Yemen. According to Shrum's colleagues at the Center, the American had always advocated that his students remain faithful to Islam.

Shrum not only taught Yemenis English, but would often buy students books and assist them in learning computer skills.

As I have said in recent months, and even before Osama bin Laden was killed in a US Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan in May 2011, al-Qaeda is no longer the hierarchic-controlled organization it was in 2001.

Actually, since 2005, the nature of al-Qaeda began to change, whereby "lone wolves" and cells adopting al-Qaeda's hateful philosophy against the West began to ferment.

Increasingly, with decentralization and a shift to "soft targets," al-Qaeda surrogates have begun to shift their tactics from highly-sophisticated mass-casualty events to single assassinations and kidnappings, as the media effect is just as persuasive.

Such operations also have a great potential for success and are much less expensive than large-scale bombings.

Update/Mexico:Judicial Panel Says Imprisoned Frenchwoman, 37, Will NOT be Released

As a follow-up to my previous postings, a Mexican Supreme Court panel of justices voted on Wednesday (March 21) NOT to free Frenchwoman Florence Cassez, 37, who assert that she was unjustly sentenced to 60 years in prison for kidnapping in a case that has put Mexico's troubled criminal justice system in question and contributes to a continuing deterioration of relations with France. The justices voted 3-2 against freeing Cassez.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly called for Cassez to be freed, while Mexican President Felipe Calderon has urged the court panel to uphold justice for victims.

COMMENT: Cassez was arrested in 2005 and convicted of helping a kidnapping gang allegedly led by her Mexican boyfriend at the time. She lived at a compound near Mexico City where kidnapping victims were held, but she has said she was simply dating the man in the case and did not know the victims were being held there.

At least one victim identified her as one of the kidnappers, though only by her voice, not by sight.

Cassez was originally sentenced in 2008 to 96 years in prison for four kidnappings. The sentence was reduced to 70 years a year later when she was acquitted of one of the charges.

Cassez's imprisonment became a hotly debated issue in France after Mexican police acknowledged that they staged a televised raid of the ranch in which officers appeared to rescue the hostages and detain Cassez. The Attorney General's Office acknowledged that, in fact, Cassez had been arrested the day before outside the ranch.

Police later acknowledged they were dressed in civilian clothing and were let into the ranch by Israel Vallarta, Cassez's ex-boyfriend who was also arrested. His case is still being decided in the courts.

Mexican police hauled Cassez back to the ranch and forced her to participate in their staging of the raid for television cameras, a sort of media display that is not unusual in Mexico.

Supreme Court justice Arturo Zaldivar cited that incident and other irregularities when he proposed earlier this month that Cassez be set free. He said police were also remiss in not promptly notifying the French consul that Cassez had been arrested.

Australia: British Hiker, 51, Dies on Mountain Summit from Apparent Heart Attack

Tragically, an unidentified British hiker, 51, succumbed and died from an apparent heart attack after reaching the summit of Cradle Mountain on March 19 in Tasmania. The man was walking with a companion at the time.

Unfortunately, bad weather prevented first responders from evacuating the man from the 1545 -meter mountain (5,068 feet) by helicopter. Consequently, the recovery team had to hike to the to the summit and retrieve the decedent by hand.

COMMENT: The man was given CPR by an off-duty paramedic who was also walking on the mountain at the time, which is a popular tourist destination in the state's northwest. The man's companion, also from the UK, returned to the base safely and presumably will assist in repatriating the man's remains back to the Britain.

The park service responsible for Cradle Mountain reminds hikers that they should be in reasonably good physical condition to undertake the mountain, as it not a mere walking mountain, but one that requires agility and endurance over rigorous terrain to reach the summit.

As I have said previously in numerous postings where middle-aged to senior hikers have died while engaging in strenuous endeavors, it is essential that all travelers over the age of 50 have a thorough physical examination before engaging in such pursuits abroad.

Clearly, dying unexpectedly in a far off country away from close family and friends is never pleasant, which is why I continue to advocate that everyone have a thorough physical exam before departure.

Somalia: Kidnapped British Woman, 56, Released After Ransom Payment

After my series of postings that begin in mid-September 2011 on the kidnapping of British tourist Judith Tebbutt, 56, who was kidnapped by Somalian pirates at a luxury resort village just inside Kenya, Mrs. Tebbutt was freed yesterday (March 21) after the payment of a US$1.3 million ransom.

Held in captivity for six months, Tebbutt was unaware for weeks after being abducted that her husband, David, 58, had been killed by the pirates, after her husband came to her aid when gunmen converged on their hut.

COMMENT: British officials declined to go into details about the circumstances of Tebbutt's release or comment on any ransom demand. Yet, it is presumed that the Tebbutt Family made arrangements for the payment of the ransom. Mrs. Tebbutt's son, Oliver, is attributed to working out the details on the payment of the ransom.

Although foreign governments whose policies against the payment of ransom are not often not happy to see private parties pay ransom, they at the same are spared the emotional turmoil when a family member is abducted.

Gunmen entered the Tebbutts' cottage at the Kiwayu Safari Village resort on the evening of September 10, 2011; they were the only foreigners staying at the 18-cottage resort at the time. Subsequently, Mrs. Tebbutt was abducted from the village by boat.

A month later, gunmen kidnapped a disabled French woman who lived part-time in Lamu. She died in captivity.

In January 2012, US Navy SEALs dropped into Somalia and rescued a 32-year-old American and a 60-year-old Dane kidnapped in October 2011. Nine kidnappers were also killed in the rescue operation.

Criminals in Somalia still hold an American taken in January. Other hostages held in Somalia include two Spanish aid workers seized in Kenya, a French military adviser and hundreds of sailors of various nationalities hijacked by pirates at sea.

Considering that the risk of kidnapping is still highly probable near the Somalian-Kenyan border, I strongly recommend that tourists not travel within 60 miles (96 kilometers) of Somalia.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Zealand: Japanese Tourist Knocked Unconscious, Robbed

Details are a bit sketchy, but several media organizations report that a Japanese tourist was assaulted to the point of being unconscious earlier yesterday (March 20) and robbed of his tote bag. The incident occurred at roughly 1830 hours in Auckland.

COMMENT: Fortunately, not only did bystanders pursue the assailant, resulting in his arrest, but others rendered first aid to the victim.

Although New Zealand has had some major spikes in street crime in recent years, both the central government and judges have been particularly tough on criminals, largely because of the impact crimes against tourists have on national tourism.

Foreign travelers should be aware of the fact that New Zealand has a crime victim compensation program that can assist crime victims with compensation for losses and injuries.


Norway: Four Swiss, One Frenchman Killed in Avalanche While Skiing

According to the BBC, four Swiss tourists and one French tourist were killed when an avalanche hit them while they were skiing on Mt Sorbmegaisa, near Tromsø, in northern Norway on March 19.

A sixth person, believed to be Swiss, was pulled from the snow alive. Rescue workers, search dogs and helicopters were all used in the search and rescue operation.

COMMENT: The English language newspaper, THE LOCAL, reported that the dead were part of a group of twelve who were being led by two French guides.

Ironically, in the language of the indigenous Sami people, Mt Sorbmegaisa means "very dangerous mountain."

It should be noted that both police and rescuers alike questioned the skiers' choice to ski in the area, which is known for its spring-time avalanches. According to local experts, the spring sun at this time of year causes blocks of ice and snow to break away leading to the sudden rush of an avalanche.

The names of those that perished in the avalanche will be reported as new information becomes available.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bali (Indonesia): Australian Government Urges Its Citizens to Revaluate the Need to Travel

Effective March 19, 2012, and following the operations of a terrorist cell in Bali over last weekend, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has urged its citizens to specifically reconsider travel to Bali, given the increasing risk of terrorism there, and in Indonesia, generally.

For further details, please see the link below:

Israel: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning, Effective 3/19/12

The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and about threats to themselves and to US interests in those locations. The Department of State urges travelers to remain mindful of security factors when planning travel to Israel and the West Bank and to AVOID ALL travel to the Gaza Strip.

This replaces the Travel Warning issued June 22, 2011, to update information on the general security environment.


Colorado: Romanian Tourist, 33, Killed by Drunk Driver

Tragically, a Romanian tourist, 33, was hit and killed by a drunken driver during a Colorado ski trip, while the victim was attempting to cross Highway 6 at Rasor Drive in Keystone.

Wesley Wilson, 20, has been arrested and charged with DUI and vehicular homicide.

COMMENT: Drunk driving aside, local residents have been attempting to convince local officials for some time that the intersection that the Romanian was killed at is extraordinarily dangerous. Less than a month ago a number of concerned residents wrote a letter to the local newspaper urging the county government to improve safety at the intersection.

The county and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been working this year to improve the intersection, largely because it is difficult for drivers to see pedestrians and for pedestrians to feel safe enough to cross as cars dart by, not giving pedestrians time to cross.

CDOT said in June 2011 that they will roughly $100,000 will be appropriated to install a new cross-walk with a elevated sign warning drivers. That will be triggered by infrared technology that will recognize when someone’s in the crosswalk. It’s similar to high-tech crosswalks near the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Denver.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A "Must-Read" from The Canadian Press: Cell Phone Use While Driving

For the benefit of our readers, please see the below link from an account of a young woman who died while distracted by cell phone use. It is written in the words of her boyfirend on his Face-book Page, who will never see her again.

I suggest it be forwarded to every frenetic "texter" and cell phone user who drives while communicating.

Venezuela: Shooting Death of Chilean Diplomat's Daughter Flags Unchecked Police Misconduct

Karen Berendique, 19, daughter of a Chilean consular official, was riding in a vehicle with her older brother and another young man early on Saturday (March 17) in Maracaibo when police at an unmarked checkpoint opened fire on their vehicle, killing Ms. Berendique.

It should be noted that Ms. Berendique was the daughter of Fernando Berendique, Chile's honorary consul in Maracaibo. It is unknown whether Ms. Berendique, her bother and their friend were traveling in a consular vehicle

COMMENT: Given the fact that the checkpoint was not identified as a police checkpoint, the trio decided to run the checkpoint, realizing that gunmen frequently set up such checkpoints nationwide.

As a result of the incident, twelve police officers have been detained and are under investigation. On Sunday (March 18), radio program host Beatriz Navas drew attention to the increasing human carnage attributed to Venezuelan cops, who are, in my view, the worst in Latin America, excluding México.

During her broadcast, Ms. Navas was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't have stopped and they would have killed me, too," Navas said. "The problem is that we don't believe in the police."

According to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an organization that tracks crime nationwide, police homicides in 2011 totaled 19,000. Roberto Briceno León, the group's director, said that that was the highest annual number on record in the country of 29 million people.

Although President Hugo Chavez's government expressed condolences to the Berendique Family, as well as to the Chilean government, and pledged that those responsible will face justice, I will personally be following this case and updating our readers accordingly.

From all indications, the police at the unmarked checkpoint engaged in no warning that it was a police checkpoint, nor did they have their emergency lights illuminated to demonstrate that it was an official checkpoint. To demonstrate the lack of restraint on the part of the police, Ms. Berendique was shot three times, including once in the head. The vehicle itself was hit by six rounds.

Now, here's the interesting part: After Ms. Berendique was killed, judicial police chief José Humberto Ramirez said, "We reject and repudiate this type of bad police practice." Hence, the begging question is why are unmarked police checkpoints being used when most Venezuelans know full well that this a tactic used by gunmen and carjackers?

As many of our readers know, Venezuela undertook the massive effort to turn the national police structure upside down in 2009, largely because roughly 15-20% of all crimes in Venezuela are committed by active duty cops. Unfortunately, this is a process that could easily take 15 years.

Unlike police rules of engagement in most countries, it has become common practice in Venezuela for police to shoot first and ask questions later.

In an unrelated incident in November, Chile's consul in Caracas was the victim of an "express kidnapping," and was released by his captors two hours later after a ransom payment was paid. The consul was also shot and wounded during the ordeal.

Update: Italian Marines Remain in Custody Over Shooting Deaths of Indian Fishermen

As a follow-up to my numerous postings on the shooting deaths of two unarmed Indian fisherman by Italian Marines assigned aboard a merchant Italian tanker, the two Marines remain in Indian custody over the February 15 incident.

As I have suggested a number of times, there are several solutions to this problem, but it appears that neither the Indian or Italian governments have been able to reconcile the matter amicably.

COMMENT: One issue which I have raised in the past is for a disinterested party to release exactly where the tanker was positioned at sea at the time of the shooting, as India contends that the vessel was in Indian coastal waters, while Italy insists that the ship was in international waters.

The Marines, who were providing anti-piracy security aboard an Italian merchant ship, are accused of shooting the fishermen, after mistaking them for pirates off India's southwest coast.

Meanwhile, the ship they were working on, the ENRICA LEXIE, has been barred from leaving India.

The two Marines, Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, were first detained on February 19, and have been held since March 5, in a segregated cell at the Central Prison in Thiruvanantapuram.

Italy wanted them kept in a guest house, according to privileges granted in Italy to military personnel. But Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the Italians would be given no quarter.

Several countries, including India, allow ship owners to use armed security guards to protect against pirate attacks, now a major threat to merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

Italy's position is that having military personnel aboard merchant ships is governed by an Italian law conforming to UN anti-piracy resolutions, and that such personnel are part of the Italian state and therefore immune to the jurisdiction of foreign states.

A high-level Italian diplomatic mission was unable last month to persuade the Indians to relinquish custody. Italy has since engaged the European Union to lobby its case with New Delhi.

Yemen: American Teacher Shot, Killed in Taiz

Two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed American teacher Joel Shrum, 30, on Sunday (March 18), according to a statement by the International Training Development Center in Taiz, where the victim worked. Shrum, his wife and two young children had lived in Yemen since 2010.

A text message that was circulated by mobile phone in Yemen after the attack said that "holy warriors" had killed "a senior missionary" in the central city of Taiz. That being said, there has been no claim of responsibility for Shrum's death by al-Qaeda or any of its surrogates.

COMMENT: The Center has vigorously denied that Shrum was proselytizing, saying that he "highly respected" Islam. It said Muslims and Christians work together on "human development, skill transfer and community development" projects at the school and that religious and political debates are not permitted by either faculty or students.

It should be noted that earlier this month, in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, Biyar Sarwar , 18, shot and killed his gym teacher, American citizen Jeremiah Small, 33, before turning the gun on himself at a private English-speaking school during a morning sports lecture.

Sarwar died later at a nearby hospital without clearly learning the motive for attack on Small.

Interestingly, in a strange quote on his Face-book page, Small's father, in the state of Washington, said, "Our oldest, Jeremiah, was martyred in Kurdistan this am," the elder Small wrote.

Unfortunately, in our frenetic, 24/7 news cycle, there is little time for most media to deliberately analyze what appear to be isolated incidents, yet given the level of disdain for the US throughout the Middle East, trend analysis is crucial in preventing further and unnecessary attacks.

In this regard, those responsible for hiring foreign teachers, particularly in the Middle East, should factor in biases toward particular nationalities, solely on personal security grounds, in the hope of heading off future attacks on teachers.

Given the harsh laws against proselytizing in many ultra-conservative Middle Eastern countries, consideration should also be given to ensuring that selected candidates do not have a religious conflict in operating in such nations.

India/US: Roman Catholic Priest Wanted in US for Child Molestation Arrested

The Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 57, an Indian national, appeared in a New Delhi court earlier today (March 19) and will be held in custody pending a formal US request for his extradition, to be filed along with case evidence. This process could take upwards of three months.

Indian police located and took into custody Jeyapaul on Friday (March 16) near the southern Indian town of Erode, after INTERPOL issued an alert for his arrest.

COMMENT: Jeyapaul has denied molesting a 14-year-old girl in 2004 when he was working at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, MN, near the Canadian border. Additionally, while visiting India in 2005, to visit his elderly mother, he learned that he was being sought for having an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old Minnesota girl.

The Vatican recommended Jeyapaul's removal from the priesthood, but a local Indian bishop failed to carry out the directive and simply sent him to a monastery for a year.

Jeyapaul was one of many foreign priests brought to the US to help fill shortages in American parishes.

Parents who travel abroad with their children are cautioned that child molestation is a serious problem everywhere and that educating and cautioning children of all ages is essential.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Egypt: Kidnapped Brazilian Hostages, Police Officer Released by Bedouins

Armed Bedouin tribesmen, who had kidnapped two Brazilian women and an Egyptian police officer from a tour bus earlier on Sunday (March 18) in the southern Sinai, released their hostages later in the day.

The kidnapping occurred when six gunmen with their faces concealed approached a tour bus containing some 45 Brazilian tourists and several guides, some of them police officers. The remaining passengers were allowed to be on their way.

The tourists were near the St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, one of Egypt's most popular tourist sites, when the bus was stopped and boarded by the gunmen.

COMMENT: Reportedly, the kidnappers agreed to release the Brazilian tourists and the police officer after tribal elders spoke to them. Shortly after the abduction, the three were held in a mountainous region some 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Mt. Sinai and were served tea and dried fruit while in captivity.

This is the third kidnapping of foreign tourists in the Sinai region in a matter of weeks. In all three cases, tribesmen demanded that incarcerated family members be released from prison, yet in all three cases their efforts have failed.

Last month, three South Korean women and two American women were kidnapped near the monastery in separate incidents. They were also released unharmed.

As I pointed in my previous posting, either Egyptian authorities should adequately safeguard tourists from being kidnapped to begin with or end visits to the area in which tourists are visiting.

If this continuing problem is not neutralized, it is possible that eventually someone will be harmed.

Egypt: Two Brazilian Tourists, Egyptian Guide Kidnapped Near Mt. Sinai

Two Brazilian tourists, both women, and their Egyptian tour guide were abducted from a tour bus this weekend near Mount Sinai. Reportedly, six gunmen, whose faces were concealed, boarded a tour bus near the sixth-century St. Catherine's Monastery, randomly selected the three passengers they wanted, took them off the bus at gunpoint, and permitted the bus to continue.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, in recent months the abduction of foreign tourists near St. Catherine's have begun to be a frequent event. Although typically hostages are well-treated, they nevertheless are denied freedom and are used as pawns as a pressure point to secure the release of incarcerated tribesmen.

The lingering question after the first abduction of tourists is where are the Egyptian police to prevent further kidnappings?

Clearly, if local police cannot prevent a handful of poorly equipped tribesmen from kidnapping foreign tourists, what is their capacity to neutralize a major terrorist attack?

As a backdrop to the increasing number of tourist kidnappings in Egypt, the levels of foreign tourists visiting Egypt continue to decline. Given the political, economic and religious surprises that last year's street revolution put into motion, it is doubtful that there will be any positive change in 2012.

Saint Catherine's Monastery, commonly known as Santa Katarina, lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in the city of Saint Catherine, in Egypt's South Sinai.

The monastery is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet Egyptian authorities continue to permit these abductions to continue.

India: Two Italians, 54 and 61, Kidnapped in Orissa by Maoist Rebels

Italian nationals Paulo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, were kidnapped by Maoist rebels late on Saturday (March 17) in the Indian state of Orissa where they were hiking in the popular tourist resort of Daringibadi in Kandamal.

The two Italians reportedly were kidnapped to force the Indian government to cease anti-Maoist operations in return for their release.

The Italians were accompanied by a cook and a driver. The two Indians and the vehicle they were traveling in were later released by the rebels.

COMMENT: Local news outlets received an audio tape earlier today (March 18) in which the leader of the rebels in Orissa, Sabyasachi Panda, demanded that the state government stop all armed operations against the rebels.

In the tape, Mr. Panda was also quoted as demanding that the government release Maoist fighters from prison and disband all police and paramilitary camps.

The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting against Indian security forces in several Indian states for more than four decades demanding land and jobs for farmers and the poor. They are particularly active in Orissa, which is one of India's poorest states.

An estimated 2,000 people, including including police, militants and civilians, have been killed in the conflict between police and rebels across India in recent years.

Mali: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning, Effective March 16

The US Department of State warns US citizens of the risk of travel to Mali, and recommends against all travel to the north of the country due to threats of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners.

In addition, the National Movement for Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) and other armed groups have attacked several locations in the north and engaged in battles with the Malian military.

The conflict has sparked civil disturbances and attacks against ethnic minority groups in Bamako and other cities in the south. US citizens are also advised that presidential and legislative elections scheduled to take place in April-July may result in increased civil disturbances. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mali dated October 4, 2011, to update information on events in Northern Mali, and to inform US citizens of the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.

On January 17, National Movement for Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) rebel forces attacked a National Guard installation in Menaka, near the Nigerien border in the eastern Gao Region. Conflict continues in the north of Mali between the MNLA, other armed groups, and the Malian military. MNLA has conducted attacks upon Anderamboukane and Menaka in Gao region, Léré in Timbuktu region, and Tessalit and Aguelhok in Kidal region. Private citizens have not been targeted, but the MNLA has indicated that it intends to conduct military operations across northern Mali.

Presidential elections are scheduled for April 29, 2012, and legislative elections on July 1. Increasing political tension may result in demonstrations during the elections period and the results announcement. US citizens are advised to avoid all protests and demonstrations as they have the potential to turn violent.

As noted in the Department of State's Worldwide Caution dated January 24, 2012, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has declared its intention to attack Western targets throughout the Sahel (which includes Mali, Mauritania, and Niger). It has claimed responsibility for kidnappings, attempted kidnapping, and the murder of several Westerners throughout the region. The US Embassy in Bamako has issued several notification messages for US citizens regarding these threats, as have the US Embassies throughout the region.

On November 25, 2011, a German national was killed and a three other foreign nationals were kidnapped in the city of Timbuktu. On November 24, 2011, two French nationals were kidnapped in Hombori, in eastern Mali. AQIM claimed responsibility for the death and kidnappings.

On January 5, 2011, an individual claiming connections to AQIM attacked the French Embassy in Bamako with a handgun and an improvised-explosive device, injuring two persons. Four of these people are still being held hostage by AQIM. In July 2010, AQIM executed a French hostage in retaliation for the killing of six AQIM members during a Mauritanian-launched hostage rescue operation with French assistance in northern Mali.

AQIM has also claimed responsibility for several terrorist incidents against Westerners (bombings, murders, and/or kidnappings) in neighboring Mauritania and Niger.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

México: Frenchwoman, 37, Imprisoned for 60 Years, May be Released by High Court

A Mexican Supreme Court judge has said that Frenchwoman Florence Cassez, 37, who is serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping, should be released on the basis of procedural law violations that would negate her prison sentence.

Judge Arturo Zaldivar has argued that Ms. Cassez, 37, not only was denied prompt access to French consular agents, but a police reenactment and filming of her complicity in kidnapping charges was conducted the day after she was detained. Consequently, the video footage was released to the media as if it were real-time footage.

From the time of her detention in 2005, Ms. Cassez has denied any involvement in kidnapping Ms Cassez has always denied any knowledge or involvement in the kidnappings. She maintains that her only connection with the case was that she was the girlfriend of one of the kidnappers. Unfortunately, in México, guilt by association holds considerable weight.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, among other senior government officials, has been among those questioning her conviction and has called for her prison sentence to be vacated.

COMMENT: Needless to say, the fact that the Frenchwoman has served nearly six years in custody has created considerable tension between México and France.

Florence Cassez was arrested in 2005, at a ranch near Mexico City, where three kidnapping victims had been held for some eight weeks.

In a motion presented to the High Court's panel, Judge Zaldivar has argued that not only was Ms. Cassez denied consular access under international law, but additionally she was not presented for arraignment to determine if there was sufficient evidence to schedule her trial, thus creating the impression that she was guilty.

The French government and Judge Zaldivar are hopeful that the High Court will agree to review the defendant's case. A decision is expected no later than March 21.

Unfortunately, in a country such as México, which has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, the public has little tolerance for those associated with kidnappers.

It is hoped that if the the High Court agrees to review Ms. Cassez' conviction, and particularly the procedural violations of Mexican jurisprudence, that Ms. Cassez will be permitted to return to France. If her sentence is vacated, she would be well-served to be more circumspect in selecting friends in the future.

This case will be updated as new information becomes available.

Nepal: Frustration Rises For Family of American Trekker Missing Since 2010

Before I begin to lay out the foundation of this posting as a principal lesson-learned from this unfortunate incident, permit me to emphasize my strong recommendation against young, inexperienced and often vulnerable travelers engaging in long-term solo trips abroad.

I make this emphatic statement on the basis that while personal discovery abroad has its merits, personal security will trump such an experience every time. Simply put, life is too precious to loose to bad choices made instinctively.

According to AFP, after prolonged visits to Sri Lanka and India, American yoga teacher Aubrey Sacco, 23, decided to conclude her six-month excursion abroad, clearly a trip of a lifetime, with a solo trek in Nepal's Himalayas.

Prior to her departure on her trek, Ms. Sacco told her family that she would be hiking in Langtang National Park (a rugged area encompassing 660 square miles), which is situated on the Tibetan border. She also told them that she would contact them again in a matter of days. Sadly, they never heard from her again. That was in April 2010.

COMMENT: Ms. Sacco's mother, Connie, has now accused the Government of Nepal of indifference to a case that has flagged the dangers of solo women trekking alone in the world's most famous mountain range.

Mrs. Sacco has now visited Nepal on three occasions, meeting with Nepalese police officials in an effort to find out the status of their investigation. AFP quoted her as saying, "It should not be our job to investigate this, it's their job."

Ms. Sacco apparently was last seen in the village of Langtang on April 22, 2010. Villagers there initially told her parents that she left in the afternoon, but some later changed their stories, saying they had not seen her at all.

The Sacco Family have said that their daughter may have died in an accident, but they fear that Nepalese authorities refuse to consider other possibilities (e.g., robbery, sexual assault, etc.).

A search of the area near Langtang at the time and subsequent searches have turned up no leads as to found human remains and no avalanches that might have engulfed Ms. Sacco.

As part of their effort to find their daughter, the family has understandably involved US representatives in Colorado and even the FBI, all of whom blame "red tape" in Nepal.

Additionally, the US Embassy has offered polygraph examiners and ground radar equipment, which is often used to located bodies underground, yet there as yet has been no basis for using such equipment, considering that Nepal is slightly larger than the US state of Arkansas.

The Sacco Family has even alleged that the Nepalese government does not want to find out what happened to their daughter.

Admittedly, nothing is worse for a parent than the anguish and heartbreak of having an adult child disappear abroad. That being said, though, let me offer some perspective that not all of our readers may realize:

  • Despite our worst thoughts, rarely do foreign governments intentionally NOT act because of an unwillingness to do so. Most of the time, it simply boils down to diminished resources and inadequate technological know-how;
  • Often, our expectations from severely under-developed foreign governments are much greater than such governments can actually muster;
  • Based on the above statement, it is understandable why resolution of a missing person's case often must be borne by the families of a missing family member; and
  • When a country whose principal industry is tourism, why would such a country NOT reach resolution of a missing person's report? To not bring a case to closure only intensifies factors that would have a negative impact on tourism.

The sad news from all of this is that young travelers turn up missing abroad from time to time, often because of inexperience, traveling alone and a lack of acknowledgment of the risks involved.

Simply put, my 1,000+ postings underline the fact that young adults often make hasty, imprudent choices when traveling abroad, particularly when traveling alone, and often when they don't have the built-in security of traveling partners.

Specifically, I urge the parents of all young adults to encourage their adult children to have a traveling partner when embarking on a trip abroad.

Tragically, many of these incidents have irreversible results, which is why a number of foreign governments have urged their nationals to NOT hike ALONE in Nepal, both as an accident resolution measure, as well as discouraging crimes of opportunity on solo travelers.

Although there is no evidence to suggest that Ms. Sacco was a victim of foul play, the fact is that like in any country, criminals in Nepal often take advantage of vulnerable foreign travelers hiking alone.

In recent years, American, French and German women have either disappeared or died while trekking alone.

For the benefit of the Sacco Family, please see:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Update: Swiss Bus Crash Claims 28 Lives

As a follow-up to my previous postings on the horrific bus crash that occurred in Switzerland last week, Swiss prosecutors have told the media that the bus was NOT operating at an excessive speed when it crashed into the right-hand wall of a tunnel it was traveling through.

An analysis of security-camera footage shows the bus was traveling below the speed limit when it slammed into wall of a tunnel. As has been reported earlier, this was a single-vehicle collision.

COMMENT: Additionally, an autopsy on the driver who was operating the bus at the time revealed "no evidence of excess alcohol."

Police are also investigating the possibility that the driver was distracted while changing a DVD on the bus’s video system, though this has not been confirmed.

A spokeswoman for Valais Hospital has reported that two hospitalized survivors are being held in an artificial coma.

Prosecutors have said they will release new information on causation as soon as it becomes available.

Switzerland/Belgium: Day of Mourning for Those Killed in Swiss Tour Bus Accident

As a follow-up to my last posting on the Swiss tour bus accident that claimed the lives of 28 and injured 24 others, today (March 16) is a day of mourning in both Belgium and Switzerland, as Swiss prosecutors attempt to determine the causation of one of Switzerland's worst roadway accidents in recent memory.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, there is no new information on what cause the driver of one of three buses transporting Belgian school children to a skiing holiday in Switzerland.

This posting will be updates as soon as new information is received. In the meantime, our condolences go out to all families affected by the tragedy.

Yemen: Swiss Woman Kidnapped in Hodeida, Allegedly by al-Qaeda Affiliates

Suspected al-Qaeda terrorists kidnapped an unidentified Swiss woman in Hodeida (on the Red Sea) on Wednesday (March 14) and have reportedly moved her across three provinces and her holding her in the southeastern province of Shabwa.

The motive for the abduction is to apply pressure on the Government of Yemen to release two al-Qaeda militants who are in government custody in Hodeida.

COMMENT: Shabwa is well-known as being a stronghold for Jihadists who represent the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law). The Swiss Foreign Ministry has acknowledged the woman's abduction; last year Switzerland urged its citizens in Yemen to leave the country.

In May, the Islamic militants took control of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province which borders Shabwa, as well as several other southern towns, triggering months of deadly fighting with government troops.

As I have said in previous postings, over the last 15-20 years, an estimated 250 people, mostly foreigners, have been kidnapped in Yemen. Most of been seized by regional tribesmen who have kidnapped in order to apply pressure on the central government. Most of all been treated very well and released unharmed.

On February 1 of this year, four aid workers (a Colombian, a German, a Palestinian and an Iraqi) were freed a day after being abducted by armed men northeast of the capital of Sana'a.

A Norwegian UN employee, who was abducted by tribesmen in Sana'a on January 14, was released unharmed almost ten days later.

Al-Qaeda continues to prefer its principal tactic of large-scale, mass-casualty bombings, yet in both Yemen and Sub-Saharan Africa, kidnappings are considered to be its tactical choice.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

UK/Spain: British Inquest Flags Hazards of Foreign Travel

An inquest conducted last week in Bradford, Yorkshire (UK), into the accidental death of Colin Wild, 74, a British tourist who had been enjoying a two-week vacation in Spain two years ago with his wife, Ann, when his search for a restroom led to an accidental fall and his death from head injuries has been ruled an accidental death.

Wild, of Keighley Road, Steeton, was in search of a restroom in a pavement cafe in the coastal resort town of Dénia, where he and his wife had been having coffee, when poorly marked directions led him to an area in another establishment where there were deep steps, causing him to fall and die from his injuries.

When Mr. Wild failed to return to his wife, she became worried and frantically began searching for him, which led her to another establishment called "El Comercio," when she discovered her husband had been found dead from a head injury after he had fallen down steep stone steps into a storeroom – through a door that should have been kept locked.

An autopsy conducted in Spain at the time revealed that the retired sales manager died of severe head injuries and that he died instantly.

COMMENT: Mr. Wild's family visited Dénia shortly after his death to retrace his path to the restroom, only to discover that there were no signs in English. In particular, the first step descended nearly a foot (which might have led to the Briton's fall) and the lights might well have been off.

A police report read out at the inquest said the cellar door, which had a paper sign saying "private." in Spanish, should have been locked and the keys kept in the kitchen.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Professor Marks told the family they could still pursue civil action or a claim against the business. Yet, it has been my experience in wrongful death cases, particularly involving litigation that spans international borders, that the success of such cases against small businesses is highly remote.

In cases where foreign visitors are actual crime victims, often the potentiality for success is much greater. The defense counsel in such cases could easily raise Mr. Wild's age and the architectural realities found throughout Europe as mitigating circumstances against culpability.

Nevertheless, Mr. Wild's survivors may wish to communicate directly with the establishment in which Mr. Wild died and request that they prominently mark directions to their rest room so that other patrons do not face the same plight that Mr. Wild encountered.

Dénia is a city in the province of Alicante, Spain, on the Costa Blanca, halfway between Alicante and Valencia. The population is 44,464.