Tuesday, July 31, 2012

US: Tourist, 53, Drives Through a Wooden Guard Rail, Plunging 300 Feet Below, Dying Instantly

A tourist passing through California's Del Norte County called 911 earlier today (July 31) to report discovering the body of a middle-aged woman lying 300 feet below the Enderts Beach Overlook. 

County police and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) subsequently investigated and concluded that the woman, 53 years of age, had apparently driven through a wooden guard-rail located at the Overlook, causing her Jeep Grand Cherokee to plunge to the beach below. 

COMMENT: Local media did not disclose any conclusions made by police; this report will be updated as new information becomes available.

An autopsy is scheduled, to include toxicology screening.

Motorists are reminded to ensure to have their vehicles are serviced before driving in areas having elevated terrain. 

Additionally, travelers should NOT park in close proximity to cliffs and high-risk terrain and should always employ emergency brakes when parking in such areas. 

If driving rental vehicles, drivers should ensure that they can comfortably and safely operate such vehicles before driving in elevated terrain.

Del Norte County is a county located at the far northwest corner of the California on the Pacific, adjacent to the Oregon border. The population is 28,610. The county seat is Crescent City. 

The rural county is notable for forests containing giant Coast Redwoods, with some attaining heights well over 350 feet (110 meters). 

India: Massive Blackout is a Wake-Up Call for the Rest of the World

India suffered its second huge, crippling power failure in two days on Tuesday (July 31), depriving as many as half of India's populous country, or up to 600 million people, of electricity and disrupting transportation networks.

The first grid collapse occurred on Monday (July 30), the worst blackout in over ten years. It affected seven states in northern India that are home to more than 350 million people. Unfortunately, though, Tuesday's blackout was even larger, hitting eastern and northeastern areas as well. Both blackouts also interrupted power to the capital in New Delhi.

With about 1.2 billion people, India has the second-highest population of any country, second only to China. An estimated 300 scheduled trains were also affected in the states in which interruptions occurred.

COMMENT: It is an understatement that Monday and Tuesday's power interruptions in India brought commerce in all forms to a screeching halt. Such a reality can be a nightmare for any nation and our hearts go out to the Indian government that they promptly address the cause and bring it under control.

The significance of this power grid disruption and its impact; however, brings a bright light on all nations, developing and developed.

The fact is that what occurred in India could easily occur in at least two-thirds of nations worldwide tomorrow, next month or next year. 

Thus, outdated power grids and the lack of sufficient redundancy and the lack of cooperative agreements between nations and regional networks is very problematic.

Most recently, in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, residents, home and businesses lost power for upwards of two weeks as a result of predicted storm activity.

Conversely, consider the large number of countries who are without electrical power the majority of the time!

For tourists and travelers to anywhere, it is a must that all foreign visitors carry a flashlight with extra batteries, in the event of power losses in hotels and residential properties. Ironically, even better hotels have power interruptions from time to time, so be prepared.

As for those who live abroad, particularly in nations where power interruptions are a frequent occurrence, it is essential that residents take the necessary steps, depending upon where they live, to stockpile energy sources. 

This should also include power generation devices to include emergency generators, solar panels, inverters, etc. to generate sufficient power for minimal needs and to generate power for mobile or satellite phones.

US: Data Demonstrates "Distracted Walking" A Leading Cause of Accidents, Deaths

The increasing number of people who have unexpectedly ended up in US emergency rooms thanks to injuries incurred while they were walking and texting, tweeting, playing video games, talking on the phone, or listening to music on headphones, has more than quadrupled in the past seven years, according to the Associated Press (AP).
In 2011 alone, 1,152 people were treated for distracted walking, according to data collected by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, and that number is very likely a HUGE underestimate, since doctors and nurses rarely ask patients whether they was using a mobile device at the time of the accident.
Researchers at the University of Maryland identified 116 cases in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones. Two-thirds of those injuries involved men under the age of 30, and half of them involved trains!
COMMENT: As most of our regular readers know, I have posted several reports over the last couple of years highlighting both injuries and death resulting from pedestrians being preoccupied with a mobile device at the time they were hurt or killed.
I should also mention in passing that there have also been a number of a good number of tourists and travelers who have been robbed, raped and killed because they were "sensory-deprived" while talking on a cell phone in a public place or listening to an iPod or similar device.
In one case, a British woman, 21, was talking to her Mom from a beach area in Thailand on New Year's Day only to NOT hear two assailants that approached her from behind. Subsequently, they grabbed her, dragged her to an abandoned beach, raped her, killed her with blunt force trauma and discarded her body into the sea.

Vietnam: Angry Tourist, 27, Steals Camera In Retaliation for His Own Stolen Camera, Spends Six Months in Jail

French national Olivier Le Roux, 27, who traveled to Vietnam in early February for a holiday because he was frustrated with not being able to find a job at home, was arrested by local police after he stole a camera valued at $150 in retaliation for the street theft of his own camera days after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

Very angry at the calamity he faced upon his arrival, Le Roux came up with the creative idea, albeit poorly conceived, to steal a camera from a local camera shop on February 6, for which he was arrested, charged and remanded over for trial, given the potential for flight.

COMMENT: Having spent the better part of six months in jail, compliments of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Le Roux appeared in court in HCMC yesterday, pleaded guilty and was released for time served.

It is my suspicion that Mr. Le Roux will depart Vietnam at the earliest opportunity and resume his job search in France with due vigor.

A lesson-learned from this case is that being a crime victim promotes a variety of emotions: anger, frustration, blaming oneself, blaming the country in which the victimization occurred, etc.

Unfortunately, none of these emotions are healthy for one's psyche. 

During the course of my some 25 years in predominantly working and living abroad, I have been robbed at gun-point twice. Given my background, I promptly surrendered to the criminals what they wanted and deliberately avoided eye contact, as I have for years counseled others to do. There was no drama, the "transaction" occurred in less than a minute and it was over. Nor was I injured or harmed. On the other hand, if I had incorrectly resisted, I might not be here today offering this counsel.

Anger is by far one emotion that is not helpful, as it will prompt one to take imprudent actions that can be much worse than handing one's camera over to a street criminal, who needs it to support a drug habit or even more understandably a family.

No doubt, and hopefully, Mr. Le Roux has learned that being a crime victim does not give one the license to steal from another. For his actions, he was deprived of freedom for six months, which he could have well put to better use in looking for a job in France.

Monday, July 30, 2012

People's Republic of China: Volkswagen Engine Designs Stolen by Chinese Majority Partner

German auto giant Volkswagen has become the victim of industrial espionage in China, where its local majority partner, a Chinese firm known as FAW, allegedly stole engine designs.
For a number of months, FAW, with which VW has a joint-venture, is alleged to have copied one of the German group's engines in what sources described as a systematic and planned enterprise of espionage.

COMMENT: To make matters worse, even while being a joint-venture partner, FAW sees no reason not to sell a car model equipped with the engines in Russia, in competition with VW and Skoda models.
The PRC does not permit foreign automakers to build their own vehicles in China, but strangely requires them to work together with domestic companies in joint ventures where the Chinese partner holds the majority stake.

As an observer, what FAW is doing to Volkswagen cannot be called by any other term than economic espionage. 

Surely, Volkswagen should have inserted language into its teaming agreement with FAW that precluded the Chinese firm from having no shame but to steal VW's own engine designs.

Of course, the real question is why did Volkswagen permit itself to be painted into a corner by FAW and why do so many foreign companies who do work in China do so knowing that the PRC will steal whatever intellectual property is not safeguarded?

Thailand: Dutch Tourist, 19, Raped While Walking Back to Hotel Alone in Krabi, Following Argument with Boyfriend

A young Dutch tourist, 19, reported to police late on Saturday night (July 28) that she had been raped in the town of Krabi, some 37 miles (60 kilometers) from Phuket.

The young woman was assaulted and raped after having had an argument with her Dutch boyfriend at approximately 0400 hours and setting out to walk back to their hotel from a beach in Ao Nang. 

The victim was taken initially to the Krabi police station to report the attack and then to Krabi Hospital where she was treated for her injuries and released.

COMMENT: The Netherlands Embassy in Bangkok is working with the young woman to facilitate her making a full statement to police so she can return home and be assured that the case will be followed up on. 

Police in Krabi have identified the assailant, age 30, who resides in Surat Thani, and will arrest him in coming days after sufficient evidence is collected to charge him with forcible rape.

One can only hope that the victim in this case has summarily and permanently dumped her boyfriend, considering he permitted her to walk back to their hotel alone the night of the attack and undergo an experience she will never forget.

Foreign women alone in Thailand are easy prey and should never permit themselves to be out on the streets alone at night. If not in the company of others, they should keep the numbers of reliable taxi services in their cell phones and call a cab, rather than subjecting themselves to serious threats.

Sadly, Phuket, Krabi, Pattaya and similar magnets for tourists have become very, very seedy and disreputable in recent years, where virtually everyone is a potential target.

Sustaining injuries in conjunction with the type of attack that befell the young Dutch woman, no foreign traveler or tourist should leave home without obtaining international medical treatment and evacuation coverage FIRST, as many hospitals and clinics demand payment in advance before treatment is provided. 

A final note. I would be happy to provide any of our readers a list of destinations in the region they are heading for, where the risk of becoming a crime victim is very unlikely.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Syria: US Department of State Urges Its Citizens to Avoid, Leave Syria

The US Department of State continues to warn its citizens against travel to Syria and strongly recommends that US citizens remaining in Syria depart immediately. 

Effective immediately, the Government of Poland no longer will be serving as the protecting power for US interests in Syria. All official Polish Embassy personnel have departed Syria, and the US Interests Section operated by the Polish Protecting Power has been closed until further notice. 

US citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance should call 0969-333644 within Syria. Callers in the United States and Canada can dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747. Callers outside the United States and Canada can dial 1-202-501-4444. Please direct inquiries regarding US citizens in Syria to SyriaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.

The Department of State urges those US citizens who decide to remain in Syria despite this Travel Warning to provide their current contact information and next-of-kin information through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at Travel.State.Gov.

The US is working to appoint a new protecting power to assist any remaining US citizens in Syria and oversee its property.

Kenya: Seven Arrested in Murder of Venezuelan Embassy's Top Diplomat

As a follow-up to yesterday's (July 28) posting, Kenyan police have arrested the first secretary of the Venezuelan Embassy in Nairobi, Venezuelan Dwight Sagaray and five Kenyan employees of the embassy residence, for their suspected involvement in the death by strangling of the Embassy's charge d’affaires, Olga Fonseca, 57.

Fonseca’s death occurred shortly after Kenyan personnel at the Venezuelan Embassy filed a complaint with the Diplomatic Police Unit in Gigiri (an upscale neighborhood in which the embassy is located) because Fonseca had supposedly fired them, according to local media.

Those employees were presumably dismissed for refusing to retract their accusations of sexual harassment against Fonseca’s predecessor, Gerardo Carrillo Silva.

COMMENT: Media sources did not connect the dots as to why a Venezuelan first secretary, a foreign diplomat, was arrested and taken into custody, considering that the unnamed official has diplomatic immunity. Nor did local media indicate the basis of the charge against the first secretary.

Normally, foreign governments do not waive diplomatic immunity, although it has been done on numerous occasions in the past.

Fonseca, 57, was found strangled to death Friday (July 27) inside the official residence of the Venezuelan Embassy in the exclusive Runda neighborhood on the north side of Nairobi. She had only arrived in the Kenyan capital on July 15 to take charge of her country’s embassy.

Additional information will be posted on this matter as new information becomes available.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Australia: Dingoes Badly Injure Sleeping German Tourist on Fraser Island

A German tourist, age unknown, who was part of a larger tour group on Fraser Island (off the coast of Queensland), on Saturday (July 28) was badly injured by two dingoe while he broke off from his group and took a nap.

COMMENT: Although the man is in stable condition after having been airlifted to the mainland, this incident is a reminder to tourists and travelers everywhere to engage in thorough pre-departure research as to the wildlife, insects and reptiles they may encounter while abroad.

It is one thing to take a nap in the company of watchful tourists, but to do so while alone, is tantamount to asking for trouble.  

The Dingo, an adorable but oddly vicious wild dog, are prevalent on Fraser Island, as well as a number of large lizards and snakes that may be harmful to a sleeping tourist, thinking they are still in Berlin.

Thailand: Two Suspects Arrested in Stabbing Death of Perth Travel Agent in Phuket

The Royal Thai Police announced on Thursday (July 26) that two suspects in the stabbing death of Perth-based travel agent Michelle Smith, 60, in Phuket have been charged in the death of Ms. Smith when two men on a motorbike attempted to snatch her handbag on June 20.

Although assailants Surasak Suwannachote and Surin Tadthong have confessed to riding the motorbike during the crime, they were arrested late last month, although authorities waited to announce their arrest until they had successfully put together sufficient evidence to charge the two men. Police also found a purple Honda Dream 100cc motorbike they believe was used as the getaway vehicle at a shop where the suspected killer had worked.

Mrs. Smith was among a group of ten travel agents returning to their hotel after an evening meal at the time of the attack. Sadly, Ms. Smith died over $10.

Potentially, Ms. Smith's assailants could face the death penalty but the suspects' co-operation and confessions make it more likely that they will face life in prison if convicted.

Smith was part of a group of ten travel agents from Perth on a tour organized by Asia Escape Holidays to review hotel facilities in Phuket, and was walking in a back-street shopping area with a friend when a man on a motorcycle pulled up beside her and tried to take her bag. 

When Smith resisted the robbery attempt, the assailant slashed her in the heart with a knife, killing her instantly. At the time, Ms. Smith was walking with another travel agent, Tammee Lynn, 42, who was also stabbed during the attack, but survived with minor injuries.

COMMENT: Although it is no doubt instinctive that would-be crime victims resist an act of armed robbery, in my SAFE FOREIGN TRAVEL workshops, which are filled with hands-on strategies designed to prevent injury and or death. 

I emphasize in these programs NOT to resist, as no amount of property is worth your life.  Part of the training is knowing WHEN to resist and WHEN NOT TO.

Without training, many victims react, rather than respond prudently to a life-and-death situation.

For information on these training programs, which are provided worldwide to families and groups, please contact me at: ed@sbrisksolutions.com.

Puerto Rico: Canadian Tourist, 17, Drowns While Swimming At Night, Strong Currents Cited as Cause

The body of Canadian teenager Justin Langley, 17, was found floating near the Marriott Hotel in San Juan's Condado district on Tuesday (July 24) after drowning the previous evening while swimming with friends.

Langley, who went into the water with some ten friends from the wedding party (while staying at the Marriott) on Sunday night (July 22), was apparently unaware of the particularly strong currents that were being registered in the area.

COMMENT: As I have noted in a number of previous postings, swimming in coastal waters at night is, even with a group of friends, is not a prudent idea, particularly when it is impossible to see warning flags and notices of strong currents.

Even though the young man was swimming with friends, he apparently was swept away by an undertow, despite the efforts of those he was with and hotel personnel to come to his aid.

Kenya: Charge d’affaires at Venezuelan Embassy Found Murdered at Residence

The charge d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Kenya, Olga Fonseca, 57, was found strangled to death on Friday (July 27) inside her Nairobi residence.

Although local police are investigating Ms. Fonseca's death, little has been said about the motive or possible suspects by the Venezuelan government.

COMMENT: It is understandable why the police in Caracas are making few public statements, considering their poor record of success in the majority of Part 1 investigations (felonies).

Fonseca, a career diplomat, arrived in Nairobi less than two weeks ago. Ironically, though, her death occurred just days after Kenyan personnel at the Venezuelan Embassy filed a complaint because Fonseca had supposedly unjustly fired them, according to local media. Those employees  were reportedly dismissed for refusing to retract their accusations of sexual harassment against Fonseca’s predecessor, Gerardo Carrillo Silva.

For the benefit of our readers, acts of violence against expats and diplomats is not a regular occurrence, yet it does happen from time to time when foreign employers discharge local employees for cause, particularly in countries where the rate of unemployment is very high. Unemployment in Kenya is roughly 40%.

Three ways of avoiding potential conflicts with local staff in foreign countries is by: (1) having local legal counsel review all aspects of  compliance with local labor laws; pay generous severance compensation in cases where local staff believe they have been unfairly treated; and (3) effectively vetting local staff before they are employed so as to avoid employing personnel who may be vindictive after the fact.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

Turkey: Two Britons Gang-Rape Dutch Tourist, Assailants "Punished" with Deportation

A Dutch woman, 25, was raped by two Britons, both 19, this week when she failed to lock the door of her hotel guest room in Maramaris.

The victim, for reasons unknown, failed to lock her guest room door. As a result, her two assailants entered her room and and took turns raping the young woman while the other kept watch.

COMMENT: Even though the woman's two rapists are being deported, it is outrageous that that is their ONLY punishment.  

Where is the justice for the victim and where in the world were Dutch diplomats who should have been protecting the interests of their compatriot who was raped?

Justice would mandate that the perpetrators in this case should have been arrested, booked, charged and convicted. Worse, local expats and Turks everywhere have expressed their disapproval to no avail.

This crime should be a reminder to tourists and travelers anywhere that the only thing keeping them from becoming a victim in Turkey, is their own level of personal security awareness and vigilance.

Clearly, deportation comes nowhere close to gang-rape.

If the victim had attended one of my SAFE FOREIGN TRAVEL workshops she would have learned how to secure her guest room door, and very likely would have avoided an experience that will remain in her memory for the rest of her life.

Marmaris is a port town and tourist resort on the Mediterranean coast, located in Muğla Province, southwestern Turkey, along the shoreline of the Turkish Riviera. Marmaris' main source of income is tourism. 

The town's population is normally 31,000, but peaks at around 300,000 to 400,000 people during the tourism season. Marmaris' nightlife rivals anything on the Turkish coast.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

India: Australia's DFAT Urges Citizens to Avoid the Northeast

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a travel advisory yesterday (July 25) urging its citizens to reconsider their travel plans to India's north eastern states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura.

Specifically, DFAT was quoted as telling Australians, "We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the north-eastern states of Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur because of the risk of armed robbery, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism-related incidents."
"Insurgent groups have attacked civilians and bombed buildings. There is also a risk from insurgent groups in rural areas of these states," it said.

"In July 2012, inter-communal violence in the Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri districts of Assam reportedly caused a number of deaths and injuries. There are reports of displacement and disruption to transport services.  Various districts have put curfews in place. Further violence may occur," the Department advised.
COMMENT: Despite the travel warning on the travel to the Northeast, DFAT emphasized that the overall level of the advice for the citizens was not changed for other parts of the India.

For Jammu and Kashmir, the advisory remained unchanged with DFAT asking not to travel to the state other than to the Ladakh region via Manali, or by air to the city of Leh, due to frequent armed clashes and terrorist activities. 

Our readers are cautioned; however, that terrorist attacks have occurred throughout India in recent years. 

Consequently, tourists and travelers are urged to be deliberately observant of any activity that seems abnormal and report it accordingly to local police and security services. 

For a complete sampling of recent terrorist attacks in India, go to the search box under our 1,300+ postings and simply type in "India" for a complete search result.

México: Distrust of Police Amongst Mexicans Reaches 71%, Highest in Five Countries Studied

In a quarterly attitudinal survey of five Latin American countries (Panamá, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela and México) conducted by Germany-based GfK think-tank, distrust of the police in México rose from 63% in the first quarter of 2012 to 71% in the second quarter.

GfK's comparative studies of the five countries also revealed that distrust of the police in México is much greater than in Panamá, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, which is startling data considering that Venezuela and Ecuador are included in the study, both of which have very poor confidence in the police as well.

In a press release, GfK said that "Distrust in Mexico has grown more than in any other Latin American country [of those included in the study], largely due to the increase in violence, the corruption of public servants, drug trafficking and a cultural trend among Mexicans," the German company emphasized.

COMMENT:  GfK took its surveys in a number of cities in the five Latin American nations, polling an average of 3,100 people per country in order to obtain comparative levels of distrust in the institutions of the region. In the coming months the company plans to add similar studies in Argentina and Brazil.

Unfortunately, though, GfK's report on the five-country comparative study did not disclose the distrust percentages in all five nations. That being said, after working in Latin America as a security consultant for the better part of fifteen years, my sense is that distrust of the police in Venezuela and México are very similar.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

World Bank: Argentina the Most Protectionist Nation

In a report released worldwide by the World Bank, the international organization has identified Argentina as the world's MOST protectionist nation (for the second year in a row), considering that Buenos Aires has applied the most restrictions to control foreign trade, imports and exports and currency controls.

COMMENT: Since the Argentine government stated that it would proceed with expropriating control of the country's largest oil product, YPF SA from its Spanish parent Repsol YPF SA, there have been on-going anti-Argentine outrages and condemnation throughout the media in the US, Europe and the UK. 

Against this background, Repsol has threatened legal action against Argentina, as well as stating that it will take legal action against any company that invests in YPF. The company has also publicly stated that it is seeking $10.5 billion in compensation from the Argentine government for the expropriation of almost its entire share of the company.

The Spanish government has also commenced lobbying other members of the European Union to take action against Argentina. If the EU were to impose trade sanctions on Argentina it would have a significant effect on the Argentine economy, because the European Union is Argentina's second largest export market after Brazil.

The US and México have also heavily criticized Argentina's expropriation of YPF, but yet neither country is either able to or likely to take concrete action against Argentina. In addition, both are also distracted with their own economic and political problems.

The US has already implemented a series of trade sanctions and measures against Argentina. These measures have included voting against multilateral loans and revoking trade preferences for Argentina, because the country has failed to pay arbitration awards to two US companies. To date these actions appear to have had little effect on Argentina.

Seemingly, President Kircher has rolled the dice and figured things could not get worse, considering that Argentina is already treated  as an international economic pariah since its 2002 debt default. 

Sadly, Argentina has a long history of failing to pay settlements stemming from international trade disputes as well as having more cases pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes than any other country on Earth. It also still owes members of the Paris Club, an unofficial network of finance officials from 19 of the world's largest economies, $9 billion as a result of the debt default.

Although Kircher seems to be having her way at the moment, foreign companies have watched very carefully how Spain has been treated by Argentina, and they will not forget that they could be next. In the meantime, investors in the US and Europe are beginning to view Argentina as nothing more than another banana republic.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: US Department of State Issues Updated Travel Warning

The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC), and recommends against non-essential travel to eastern and northeastern DRC. This replaces the Travel Warning dated January 12, 2012.

Armed groups, bandits, and elements of the Congolese military remain security concerns in eastern and northeastern DRC. These armed groups, primarily located in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale provinces, as well as the northern part of Katanga province, and the eastern part of Maniema province, are known to pillage, steal vehicles, kidnap, rape, kill, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is present near the border with Uganda, Central African Republic, and the Republic of South Sudan. The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) continues to assist the Congolese government with the protection of civilians and efforts to combat armed groups. 

The region has been the scene of violent clashes that have resulted in the displacement of more than 1.9 million civilians since the start of the Rwandan conflict in 1994. In April 2012, members of a rebel group that previously had been integrated into the Congolese military mutinied and heavy fighting has been reported in Massisi and Ruthshuru territories as well as in Virunga National Park. In July 2012, members of this group captured several towns north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province. As a result, over 200 people have been killed and the number of internally displaced persons has risen to 1.7 million. Moreover, renewed violence amongst foreign and Congolese rebel groups present in the northern part of North Kivu and former Rwandan militants in the southern part of the province and throughout South Kivu pose a serious and significant risk to travelers in the region. This fighting underscores the persistent insecurity arising from activities of rebel and other armed groups operating in the Kivus, which contribute to the overall high risks and dangers associated with travel to eastern Congo. The US Embassy in Kinshasa has strictly limited travel by official personnel to North Kivu. Travel to that region for Embassy personnel is permitted only under exceptional circumstances. 

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country. Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay. In the past year, several US citizens were illegally detained by government forces. Very poor infrastructure (road and air) makes the provision of consular services difficult outside of Kinshasa. 

Kinshasa has a critical crime threat level, and US citizens continue to be the victims of serious crimes, including armed robbery by groups posing as law enforcement officials in both urban and rural areas, especially after nightfall. Avoid walking alone and displaying cash and other personal property of value. Avoid taking photos in public, especially of government buildings and the airport (which are viewed as places of national security), police stations, the presidential palace, border crossings, and along the river, since doing so may lead to arrest. 

Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving. You should not stop at the scene of an accident or at intersections where people have gathered, as mobs can develop quickly. In areas where the roads are in poor condition and the speed limit is minimal, be wary of gangs of street children who may approach your car, open your door, and steal your belongings. Roadblocks are often found throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa, and should be avoided when possible. If stopped at a roadblock, keep doors locked and crack the window in order to communicate. 

Official Congolese motorcades pose hazards to motorists and pedestrians. Drivers should pull over to the far side of the road when sirens or security forces announce their presence. You should NOT take photographs of motorcades. Proceed only when security forces permit you to do so. 

There is no reliable public transportation system in the DRC. Overcrowded vans and taxis, which often do not meet western safety standards, serve as public transportation in Kinshasa. Few independent taxis are available, operating largely out of the big hotels, and most do not meet safety standards. You should avoid all travel by public transportation, and hire private transport from a reliable source. 

The DRC has few viable roads or railways, but does have several major waterways. Boat transport is widely used; however, the vessels are often overloaded or badly maintained, and accidents are commonplace. There were multiple accidents in 2011 on both rivers and lakes resulting in hundreds of fatalities. 

Public health concerns pose a hazard to US citizen travelers due to outbreaks of deadly viruses and other diseases, which can occur without warning and often without swift reporting by local health authorities.  Travelers are required to carry evidence of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the DRC. Health officials at entry points, such as the airport in Kinshasa, will check for proof of vaccination. If you do not have evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, you may be denied entry or required to pay a fine. Malaria is common throughout the DRC and prophylaxis is recommended. 

Due to the recent outbreak of Wild Polio Virus and measles in the DRC, you should update your polio and measles vaccinations, if necessary, and refer to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for additional guidance. Due to the high levels of air borne irritants (i.e., dust, burning trash, debris, etc.) individuals with respiratory illnesses should carry all their necessary medications and equipment.

There is a high risk of traveler's diarrhea and cholera throughout the country. This can be prevented by using good judgment when choosing what food to eat and water to drink. When in restaurants, it is best to ask for bottled water and avoid ice.

Due to the immense size of the country, the density of the Congo River rainforest, the terrible state of the roads, and the poor security situation, the only way to get around the country quickly is by plane. Domestic air travel on Congolese or other local airlines in the DRC is not recommended. The US Federal Aviation Administration has assessed the government of the DRC as not being compliant with international standards for aviation safety oversight. There have been several recent incidents causing deaths and injuries, including one on August 25, 2010, that killed all but one passenger. In April 2011, a United Nations operated flight crashed while landing in Kinshasa, killing 32 passengers and crew. In July 2011, a Boeing 737 crashed in Kisangani, killing more than 70 passengers. Crashes of private aircraft are even more common. The US Embassy has prohibited official travel by US government employees and certain contractors on most airlines flying domestic routes in the DRC due to safety and maintenance concerns. International flights on foreign-owned-and-operated carriers are not affected by this prohibition.

You should avoid ALL public demonstrations and areas where crowds have gathered because even peaceful events can become violent, and even deadly. You should exercise caution at all times, and closely monitor local and international news from reliable sources. Radio Okapi broadcasts in French on 103.5 FM at 0700, 0800, 1200, and 1800, and provides updates throughout the day. English-language news can be found on BBC at 92.6 FM. In emergencies, the Belgian Embassy operates a French-language radio broadcast system at FM 98.8.

Thailand: Tourists in Phuket Continue to Ignore Red Flags on Beaches

COMMENT: As a follow-up to my posting yesterday (June 24), on the large number of tourists who have drowned off Phuket beaches since the onset of the monsoon season (May through October), please see the link below to THE PHUKET GAZETTE's piece in today's issue (July 25).

THE PHUKET GAZETTE article also identifies a British man, 47, who drowned after ignoring the red flags on the beach, directing tourists NOT to go into the water.

Tourists are reminded not to venture into Phuket waters when lifeguards post RED FLAGS warning swimmers and divers of the strong currents occurring at this time of year that can easily pull them out to sea, only to have them drown. 

As mentioned yesterday, when lifeguards post red flags, tourists should use swimming pools ONLY.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Florida: German Couple Have Their iPad Stolen in Miami Beach

A young couple from Germany had their iPad stolen from them on Monday afternoon (July 23) in Miami Beach by three suspects, who fled the scene in an SUV, only to later crash their vehicle and fall into the hands of pursuing police near Dade Boulevard and Michigan Avenue.

Gerd Niels, 25, was taking photos with his iPad for his girlfriend when the suspects eyed the upscale electronic tablet and stole it while Niels was taking photographs of the area, obviously under the watchful eyes of the perpetrators.

COMMENT: Now, here's the interesting part: The young German chased the three suspects only to see them flee the area in a getaway car, but the lingering question is what would the victim have done when he caught up with them? Why confront three criminals alone, who may well be armed? Was Niels willing to die over replaceable property valued at $500-600? Unfortunately for the victim, police never recovered the coveted iPad.

Niels was reportedly surprised that such a crime would be conducted during broad daylight and was quoted as saying, "You never think something like this could happen to you." 

Unfortunately, for many visitors to the US, naive as they are, events such as the one described above is commonplace in the US and in many other countries. Indeed, Niels was lucky that he was not injured or killed over the iPad.

As I have cautioned in numerous other postings, the majority of crime victims never think they will become one. Sadly, that's the heart of the problem: Travelers MUST be prepared for being targeted and think through what their actions will be if they are singled out.

In my "Safe Foreign Travel" workshops worldwide I advocate travelers being proactive, detecting victim targeting BEFORE criminals target you and make peace with the fact that NO property is worth your life. Don't chase criminals! Learn from being a victim. Most crimes occur because victims are not vigilant and have no sense of personal security awareness.

Being victimized brings forth feelings of anger, frustration and loss, yet would-be victims must learn from the security vulnerabilities that caused the criminal to prevail in the first place.

A tip for all travelers: Keep smartphones, expensive digital cameras and such valuables as iPads in a low-cost tote bag so as to conceal them from local criminals. Then...detect the detectors before they detect YOU.

Thailand: Visitors to Phuket Cautioned Re: Risk of Drowning

A British tourist, age unknown, drowned earlier today (July 24) at a Patong beach [Phuket] in close proximity to where two other  tourists, one an American and one from Mainland China, drowned in recent weeks.  Tragically, the drowning of the British tourist occurred before 0830 hours, when lifeguards are posted. 

Sadly, the British drowning victim is the eighth drowning on Phuket's west coast beaches since May 18.  Four of those deaths have occurred at Patong beach; three of them close to the intersection of Soi Chaloem Phrakiat Road and Thaweewong Road.

The drowning of American university student Joshua Shane, 21, occurred on June 12, while the June 30 drowning of Chinese tourist Tinqi Li, 19, took place near the exact same spot on Patong beach.

COMMENT: What many visitors to Phuket do not realize is that the coastal waters, particularly during the May-October monsoon, have strong currents or "rips," that have the capacity to drag swimmers out to sea.

Although lifeguards have pleaded for all resorts to warn guests about the dangers that prevail on Phuket beaches, many resorts continue to ignore their pleas. 

Unfortunately, though, many visitors who do not know the coastal waters, increase their risk by swimming when lifeguards are not present, which is a big mistake.

One reason that most hotels have swimming pools is because of the severe currents that exist on many Phuket beaches. Thus, hoteliers often urge their guests to use the pool, rather than risk drowning.

The high number of drownings on Phuket is expected to be raised as an urgent topic when resort managements meet at Phuket Graceland Beach Resort and Spa on August 17, to discuss the safety and security of tourists on Phuket.

Having lived in Thailand for a number of years, where I spent a great deal of time on the water in both pleasure and fishing boats, as well as swimming in coastal waters, my advice for newcomers to Phuket are as follows:

1. Don't swim at night;

2. Swim only when lifeguards are present;

3. Don't swim alone during the monsoon period;

4. Don't swim in waters where there is a red flag posted on the beach;

5. Avoid swimming when you've had too much to drink; 

6. Particularly during May and October, use hotel swimming pools rather than swimming alone in the sea; and

7. If you're unfamiliar with the waters in Phuket, talk to lifeguards, first responders, police and hoteliers and ask them where it is safe to swim. They should also be asked to explain the deadly currents that can pull swimmers far out to sea.

Thailand: Australian Tourist, 21, Jailed for 15 Days for Filing False Police Report, Is Deported

Stevie Rochelle Bamford, the 21-year-old Australian woman who was recently convicted of falsely reporting that she was raped in Phuket, was deported to her native country earlier today, having served a fifteen-day jail sentence.

Bamford apparently had an argument with her Australian boyfriend when she came home late one night after a night on the own alone. Subsequently, she told police she had been raped by tuk-tuk drivers, when that was later proved to be a lie. 

Ms. Bamford then served her fifteen-day sentence at the Baan Bang Jo Detention Center and was then ordered deported and escorted onto the plane by police that was taking she and her boyfriend back to Australia.

COMMENT: The lesson-learned for Bamford and other foreign travelers who lie and file false police reports is that there are consequences for bad behavior. 

As a result, and providing that she stops lying, she will now have to state on job applications that she has been convicted of a crime and served time a jail sentence. Then again, if someone has not learned a good value system by the age of 21, she may never learn and simply omit the truth.

Bolivia: One Passenger Shot, Killed, Eight Others Injured After Gunmen Stop, Rob Two Buses Near Peruvian Border

One person was shot and killed and eight others wounded in a brash armed robbery early on Monday (July 23) in Bolivia's La Paz province. The incident occurred along a stretch of road between the towns of Pumasani and Wilakala, according to the EFE news service.

The mass robbery took place before 0400 hours when gunmen traveling in two vehicles and two ATVs intercepted two rural buses simultaneously while on a highway destined for the capital of La Paz.

The group of gunmen fired on both buses to force their buses to stop, at which point they methodically robbed a large number of bus passengers of anything of value.

COMMENT: As most of our regular readers know, I have been very consistent in urging residents and foreign travelers alike to avoid traveling by bus at night in developing countries when police patrols are sparse, if they exist at all.

Those passengers who were killed or wounded very likely stemmed from their lack of cooperation, despite being confronted with desperate gunmen numbering as many as ten.

Such robberies as occurred in this case are a frequent occurrence during hours of darkness, particularly in Perú, Bolivia and Ecuador. 

Night-time bus trips are discouraged due to the risk of robberies, but also because of road safety risks and the propensity of drivers to have worked a whole day before being forced to work at night as well, causing them to be fatigued.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bulgaria: Terrorist Bombing Against Israeli Teens Kills Four, Wounds 27 in Burgas

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said that a flight containing at least 31 Israeli teenagers were the targets of a terrorist bombing against a tour bus at Burgas Airport after arriving just 40 minutes after a flight from Tel Aviv landed earlier today (July 18). Four of the victims were killed in the bombing.

It is unknown whether the improvised explosive device (IED) that was detonated on the bus was a time bomb or one detonated by remote control activation. The incident occurred just as the Israeli youths were boarding the bus to be transported to their hotels.

COMMENT: Israeli citizens have frequently been targeted both at home and abroad, most recently in India, Thailand, Kenya, Cyprus and Azerbaijan. 

Israel suspects Iran of being behind these assaults, which have further added to tensions between the two nations already exacerbated by Israeli warnings against Iran's alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.

In Azerbaijan's capital of Baku, security officials in March announced the arrest of 22 suspects allegedly hired by Iran for terrorist attacks against the US and Israeli embassies and other Western-linked sites. 

Wednesday's attack also coincided with the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. An Argentine judge is on record as concluding that Iran was behind that attack. 

Unfortunately, Israeli tourists and travelers must be particularly vigilant abroad where the level of security that they enjoy at home is less formidable. It is clear that the perpetrators of the attack today were tracking the students' arrival and had planned the tour bus attack to coincide with the tourists' arrival in Burgas from Tel Aviv.

Jews and Israelis alike should take steps to conceal their religious affiliation, particularly given their vulnerability to attacks by Islamic extremists abroad.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Zealand: Arrests Made in Assault, Robbery of Two French Tourists

As a follow-up to my July 9th posting concerning the July 8th assault and robbery of two French hitchhikers in the Papamoa area south out of Mount Maunganui near Te Maunga when the two victims were picked up by a vehicle with two male occupants, two suspects, ages 24 and 26, were arrested yesterday.

COMMENT: The two Frenchmen were subsequently driven to the rear of the abandoned service station where they were beaten up and robbed of their packs, clothing, passports, cash and money cards.  

The two defendants will appear in the Tauranga District Court on Wednesday (July 18), at which point this report will be updated.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bahrain: US Filmaker Deported for Falsifying Visa Application

The Bahraini government announced on Saturday (July 14) that it had deported Seattle-based American filmmaker Jen Marlowe, accusing her of falsifying her visa application and shooting a controversial documentary without permission. Marlowe was deported to Jordan.

Marlowe, who arrived in Bahrain about a week ago, told immigration officials that she had come "to help a friend who had recently had a baby, yet investigation of her visa application revealed that the names and addresses she gave were fabricated.

Unfortunately, for Marlowe, she has been shooting a controversially and politically charged documentary that would have required her to obtain a work permit in the Kingdom, which she did not have.

COMMENT: To make matters worse, Ms. Marlowe is affiliated with members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISI), some of whom had resorted to similar illegal entry tactics in February of this year. The filmmaker was briefly detained and questioned before being deported to Jordan.

In February, Manama announced the expulsion of twelve activists, most of them US citizens, who had come from abroad to participate in "illegal" protests to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of Shiite-led protests in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.

As a matter of interest, the Bahrainis rejected a visa request by the AFP news service and other international media to cover the first anniversary of the pro-democracy Shiite-led protest that was brutally crushed. 

Last year's crackdown led to the deaths of 35 people, including five security personnel and five detainees who were tortured to death, an independent commission of inquiry appointed by King Hamad revealed.

What many foreigners may not know is that falsifying a visa application can potentially result in fines, arrests and even imprisonment, although deportation is the most likely ramification. 

Lying on a visa application can also result in being banned from a country for an undetermined period of time or indefinitely. 

And, in the case of the Gulf states, many share data on foreigners who have lied in the past, which can have an impact on visa applications in other countries.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Costa Rica: Canadian Retiree, 60, Shot Three Times, Police Strangely Rule Death a Suicide

Serge Gravel, 60, a Canadian retiree who relocated to Jacó, on the central Pacific coast in January of this year, was found dead this week. Strangely, despite finding three bullet wounds in Mr. Gravel's body, the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) has concluded that the Canadian died of suicide.

COMMENT: Unfortunately for Costa Rica's mushrooming expatriate community, the OIJ has a history of rendering very hasty conclusions not only to suspicious deaths. Additionally, five expatriates have also disappeared in Costa Rica without a trace since 2009.  

To the detriment of the Gravel family, the OIJ has cited no forensic evidence to support its conclusion that the Canadian died from his own hand.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

Although retiring and living in Costa Rica can be a truly satisfying experience, the ineffectiveness of Costa Rica's police system is one factor that can put a damper on the lifestyle, particularly in light of the country's increasing level of violent crime, as demonstrated by Mr. Gravel's poorly concluded suspicious death investigation.

Jacó is a coastal city in the county of Garabito in Costa Rica's Puntarenas province. Jacó is approximately one hour by car from the capital of San José and Costa Rica's International Airport (SJO). 

Manuel Antonio National Park is located just one hour South of Jacó. The town has a population of approximately. 10,000 residents, many of whom are expatriates.

Central African Republic: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning

The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of traveling to the Central African Republic (CAR), and recommends AGAINST all but essential travel outside the capital of Bangui.  This replaces the Travel Warning of January 4, 2012, to reflect a change in contact information.  

Armed militia groups, bandits, and poachers present real dangers, and the CAR government is unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country. There have been repeated attacks on travelers in the countryside. Attacks in recent months have occurred as close as 70 kilometers to Bangui. Poachers and gunmen also pose a threat to game hunters in northern and eastern CAR. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) poses a similar threat to hunters in eastern CAR.

Bangui suffers from elevated crime rates for both petty and violent crime, as well as particularly limited transport and medical options. CAR military and civilian security forces (and people posing as such) staff checkpoints throughout the city, frequently harassing residents and international visitors for bribes. Spontaneous demonstrations take place in CAR from time to time in response to world events or local developments. Peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Hence, all demonstrations should be avoided.

In some cases, US citizens have been arrested and detained without due process and housed in harsh prison conditions. The CAR government has at times denied consular access to US citizen prisoners and moved them to other facilities without informing the US Embassy.
The US Embassy staff in Bangui can provide only limited services to US citizens at this time. Following the evacuation of all American staff in 2002, the U.S. Embassy in Bangui resumed operations in January 2005 with very limited staffing.

Australia: Surfer, 24, Killed by Shark South of Wedge Island

A 24-year-old male surfer from Perth whose identity are being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin was killed early this morning (July 14), four kilometers south of Wedge Island, which is a holiday magnet located 160 kilometers north of Perth. The victim was surfing about 200 meters off an isolated beach at the time of the attack.

Shortly after the attack, a shark response unit had deployed patrol vessels in the area of the incident in an effort to locate and catch the shark responsible for the surfer's death. This is the fifth fatal shark attack in West Australia (WA) during the course of the last year. Reportedly, WA is the deadliest area for shark attacks in the world.

On March 31, 2012, 33-year-old diver Peter Kurmann was killed by a shark in waters near Busselton in the state's south west. A 32-year-old American, George Wainwright, died after being bitten by a great white shark on October 22, 2011 while diving off the tourist destination of Rottnest Island near Perth. Twelve days earlier, 64-year-old Bryn Martin disappeared while taking his daily swim at Perth's popular Cottesloe Beach. His swim trunks were later found, with experts saying that damage was consistent with a shark attack. On September 4, 2011, Kyle James Burden was attacked while body-boarding at Bunker Bay, about 300 kilometers south of Perth.

COMMENT: My suggestion to divers, snorkelers and swimmers worldwide is that if you're new to an area, consult with marine police, lifeguards, first responders or fire departments FIRST before you venture into ocean and sea water. 

Specific questions to ask is whether sharks have been observed or whether there have been any shark attacks on people. Ask local officials what warning systems they use to alert swimmers to the presence of sharks or discourage them from entering the water when sharks are present. 

Particularly in Australia and South Africa, it is also a good practice to ask whether electronic shark barriers are used to keep sharks away from people in the water.

Vietnam: Thirteen Foreign Tourists Injured After Tour Bus Hits Deep Pot-Hole on Mountain Pass

At least thirteen foreign tourists were injured yesterday morning (July 13) when a rural tour bus overturned while traveling on the Co Ma mountain pass in the central province of Khanh Hoa.

The coach, carrying 20 foreigners including Belgian, British, US, Israeli and French tourists, along with 10 Vietnamese passengers, was on its way to Nha Trang City from Hue City when the accident occurred.

COMMENT: According to provincial police, three of the injured were taken to Khanh Hoa General Hospital suffering from serious injuries, while the others were treated at Van Ninh District Hospital.

As tour bus accidents continue to mount worldwide, with injuries and fatalities increasing with each passing month, I must urge our readers to strongly consider domestic air transport over less expensive bus travel in the interest of traveler safety.

Another major consideration is that all tourists and travelers strongly consider subscribing to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage, as most hospitals and clinics worldwide may refuse to render medical care unless payment is guaranteed in advance.

Friday, July 13, 2012

California: Youngster, 6, Bitten by Mojave Green Rattlesnake, Fights to Recover

Kaden Rivera, age 6, is continuing to attempt to recover  from a serious Mojave Green Rattlesnake bite while on a July 4th camping trip with his family near Camp Pendleton. The youngster was chasing the family dog when he was bitten by the snake in scrub-brush.

The Rivera Family are residents of Redlands, CA.

Unfortunately, within minutes of Kaden being taken to the ranger's station in Camp Pendleton, he was already vomiting, foaming at the mouth, lost control of his muscles and was having trouble breathing. The boy was immediately rushed to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.

COMMENT: Normally, victims of rattlesnake bites require just a few vials of anti-venom, but the victim in this case was administered 42 vials given the severity of his reaction to the bite and the need to stop his muscle spasms and stabilize his breathing. His foot, the likely site of the bite, had swollen to twice its normal size.

It should be noted that all rattlesnake bites contain a strong neurotoxin which attacks the human nervous system and can lead to paralysis.

Mojave Green Rattlesnakes can grow up to 4.5-feet long, but unlike most rattlesnakes, their venom is ten times more toxic than other North American rattlesnakes. Chances of survival are good if medical treatment is sought immediately. 

Mojave Greens also have an unpleasant proclivity toward being aggressive to humans. The range of these snakes includes the Mojave, California and central México.

We will update this report as new information becomes available.

Parents with young children should take the time to sensitize their sons and daughters to the risks posed by poisonous reptiles, lizards, spiders and the like. Such education should include snake identification and exposure avoidance.

As someone who has not only been bitten by snakes in the past, but also had close encounters with Cobras and Banded Kraits, understanding reptile behavior, identification and how to avoid encounters with dangerous snakes is paramount.