Monday, December 31, 2012

Afghanistan: Pregnant American Woman, 27, Canadian Husband Missing Since October 2012

According to The Associated Press (AP), James Coleman, father of American citizen Caitlan Coleman, 27, has told the AP that Caitlan was traveling with her Canadian husband, Josh, when she vanished in early October 2012 in Afghanistan.

The last communication came from Caitlan's husband, Josh, who said he was in an Internet cafe on October 8, 2012, in what the woman's father described as an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan. Caitlin was due to give birth in January 2013.

Strangely, James Coleman referred to his son-in-law only as Josh, so as t0 protect his privacy.  He told AP that he was going public with his daughter's disappearance in the hope of finding her.

COMMENT: In point of fact, all of Afghanistan is unsafe. 

According to James Coleman, an unnamed Afghan official claimed that the couple had been kidnapped in Wardak province without providing any details or evidence.

To date, no insurgent group, including the Taliban, or kidnappers have claimed responsibility for abducting the young couple nor has any group demanded a ransom.  

The only confirmation that the US Embassy in Kabul has made is that it has made contact with the Coleman family and briefed the Canadian Embassy on what information they have.

Reportedly, the couple began in July 2012 traveling to Russia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan before entering Afghanistan, which seems to be strange behavior for a young pregnant woman in need of periodic prenatal  care and treatment, not to mention the harsh weather and living conditions not conducive for an expectant mother.
 
Last year a German tourist was killed while traveling through central Afghanistan and a Canadian tourist was kidnapped not far from where Caitlan and her husband were last heard from.

Although James Coleman believes that his daughter and son-in-law were interested in seeking employment with a humanitarian agency, it is imprudent to believe that they could be an effective working tandem couple, given her expecting a child next month.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

It is unknown as to when James Coleman brought the US and Canadian embassies into the picture, but clearly it was not soon enough, as so much of what goes on in Afghanistan is beyond the reach of diplomatic missions. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

India: Victim of Gang-Rape in New Delhi Dies in Singapore, A Critical Time for Drastic Change

According to The Associated Press, Indian police in New Delhi have charged six men with murder, adding to the accusations that they severely beat, tortured and gang-raped a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in the capital two weeks ago.

The murder charges were filed on Saturday (December 29), hours after the woman died in a Singapore hospital, where she had been flown for treatment.

A New Delhi police spokesman said the six assailants face the death penalty if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred, adding it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death will not have been in vain.

The victim of the vicious physical attack died early yesterday at Mount Elizabeth Hospital  in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side. 

The victim's body was cremated earlier today (December 30) in New Delhi soon after its arrival from Singapore on board a special Air-India flight, amid an outpouring of grief by people across the country.

Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, were at the airport to receive the victim's body and meet her family members, who had also arrived on the special flight.

The victim, a medical student, and her male friend, were on a bus in New Delhi after watching a film on the evening of December 16, when they were attacked by six men who subsequently raped her. The men beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into the woman's body, resulting in severe organ damage. Both were then stripped of their clothing and thrown from the bus, according to police.

Mourners express their grief nationwide and have demanded stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape, which is now punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Women face daily harassment across India, ranging from cat-calls on the streets, groping and touching in public transport to rape.
 
COMMENT: A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery. 

New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17% between 2007 and 2011.

Wholesale sexual assault and forcible rape are by no means new in India, where even foreign women have been raped with little sympathy or support from local police, most of whom are a contributing factor to the problem, rather than being a solution to the problem.

It is hoped that the severity of the attack on the medical student, as countless bus passengers stood by without rendering aid to the victim, will produce meaningful change in how sexual assault and rape are handled in Indian society.

Then, again, it is also possible that once the December 16 gang-rape drops below the media threshold, India will return to business as usual.

Yet, let's hope that that is not the case, for the sake of women of all ages.




Global Impact: Air Canada Start-Up Offers Low-Cost Service to Europe, Americas

Air Canada announced on Wednesday (December 26) that its new low-cost airline, Rouge, will offer flights to destinations in Europe and the Americas beginning July 1, 2013.

The new carrier will launch operations with two Boeing 767s and two Airbus 319s, but Rouge plans to expand to more than 50 aircraft within the next three to five years.

COMMENT: Initial destinations will include Venice, Edinburgh, Athens, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Costa Rica.

Air Canada plans to hire 200 people for Rouge. Cost savings are expected to come from paying lower wages and putting more seats in aircraft in a so-called new multi-tier seating structure.

Haiti: Revised US Department of State Travel Warning Provides Little New Information

COMMENT: For the benefit of our readers, I am providing a link below outlining the US Department of State's latest update of its travel warning on Haiti, although the updated advisory actually provides very little new information other than the fact that the US Embassy enforces an Embassy-imposed curfew between 0100 and 0500 each day.

As in the past, the advisory cites lawlessness, kidnapping, armed robbery and poor medical facilities.

Generally speaking, all tourists and travelers to Haiti should:

1. Register their itinerary with the US Department of State or their appropriate foreign affairs agency;

2. Have a thorough medical examination conducted by the traveler's medical provider to identify any health risks that might become a larger problem while in Haiti. NOTE: Haiti has very poor, substandard medical facilities;

3. Subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage before leaving home, as no medical facilities meet anything close to those services provided in developed nations; 

4. Due to very limited health facilities, travelers and tourists over the age of 60 are discouraged in traveling to Haiti;

5. Anyone traveling to Haiti should have a functional mobile phone on a 24/7 basis;

6. Local electrical power is interrupted the majority of the time; and

7. Travel to Haiti should be attempted only if those traveling have the full support and assistance of local sponsors, including emergency response.

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5850

Ecuador: US Tourist, 74, Falls, Dies in Galapagos Islands

A 74-year-old woman from the US died on Saturday (December 29) after she fell and struck her head while visiting the famed tortoise breeding grounds in Ecuador’s Galapagos islands.

The woman sustained an open head injury and lost consciousness while touring in a remote area of the islands, where emergency medical treatment was unavailable.

The American woman and her traveling companions arrived in the islands on Friday (December 28) and were scheduled to remain there until January 4.

COMMENT: As I have emphasized on numerous occasions in the past, it is essential that elderly travelers have a complete physical examination before traveling abroad to identify any health risks that might produce falls, particularly in countries where emergency medical treatment is not available.

Additionally, all seniors should ensure that they obtain international medical treatment and evacuation insurance before leaving home, in the event they fall ill or are injured while abroad. Otherwise, they may be forced to pay for treatment in advance before treatment is authorized. Normally, such coverage runs less than $10 a day.

Ironically, a week ago, an American mountain hiker, Douglas Bernard Kirby, 69, died from a heart attack on December 22, while climbing Cotopaxi Volcano, also in Ecuador. The lingering question is whether he had preexisting health conditions that warranted his NOT participating in strenuous activity.

As I have said many times in the past, dying abroad is never a pleasant experience, for the victim or their family members. 

Bolivia: Governmental Nationalization of Foreign Utilities Continues, Spain Targeted

President Evo Morales announced yesterday (December 29) the nationalization of four Bolivian units of Spanish utility Iberdrola, including the main electricity distributors in La Paz and Oruro provinces.

Reportedly, Morales justified the nationalization of the four Spanish companies on the basis that urban consumers pay less than one cent per kilo-watt hour compared to rural users who pay 23 cents per kilo watt.

COMMENT: In its announcement on the nationalization, no mention was made as to whether the Bolivian government had approached the Spanish subsidiaries on reducing the cost charged to rural consumers.

The nationalization decree applies to power distributors Electropaz and Elfeo, services company Edeser and investment firm Compañia Administradora de Empresas.

Although the government said it will hire an independent auditor to determine the amount of compensation to be paid to Iberdrola, it should be noted that La Paz has yet to compensate another Spanish utility, Red Electrica Española, on compensation for the nationalization in May 2012 of its stake in power distributor TDE.

Bolivian state utility ENDE will assume control of the four former Iberdrola units.

At the moment, only Bolivia and Argentina have nationalized Spanish entities in Latin America of late. Neither government has compensated those entities for the takeovers.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Myanmar: Air Bagan Christmas Day Crash Evidence of Indemnic Air Safety Issues

In the aftermath of the Christmas Day crash of an Air Bagan Fokker 100 jet, Flight 011, which originated in Yangon via Mandalay to Heho Airport, many foreign tourists have since canceled their reservations on the carrier, which began air service in 2004.

The Fokker hit power lines on its final approach to land, broke apart and burst into flames. The approach was further complicated by heavy fog. There was one fatality on the ground and one fatality on board.  Eleven passengers were injured, including four foreigners.

When the aircraft came to its final resting position after the crash, crew and passengers had only 90 seconds to evacuate from the fuselage. 

COMMENT: The Fokker 100 jet was 21 years old, but passed annual air worthiness inspections, which is not saying much, given the historic and frequent air crashes sustained by commercial aviation in
Myanmar.

The Fokker was carrying 71 people (as well as a crew of six), including 48 foreigners, at the time of the crash. As part of each passenger's compensation, they were paid $2,300 each.

Air Bagan is one of a half dozen very small scheduled carriers that fly domestic routes in Myanmar. 


After the destruction of Flight 011 was destroyed in Tuesday's crash, its fleet now consists of five aircraft, including four ATR turboprops and another Fokker 100. Hardly a good safety record for such a small airline.
 

In 2008, one of Air Bagan's aircraft overshot a provincial airport runway, spun out of control and crashed, causing the wings and tail to snap off. Many passengers were injured but none died.

Since the December 25 crash of Air Bagan, foreign tourists have been avoiding both Air Bagan and Air KBZ. 

For many years I flew commercial flights to and from Myanmar from Bangkok, but always insisted in flying aboard Thai Airways or chartered aircraft based in Bangkok.

Given Myanmar's poor aircraft safety record, I strongly suggest the use of reputable chartered aircraft within the country's borders. 

In 2008, the British Foreign Commonwealth Office warned its staff to avoid flights aboard Myanmar-registered aircraft.

Hawaii: Police Still Seeking Fugitive Who Pushed Japanese Tourist Off Cliff

Justin Wynn Klein, 37, a homeless man accused of pushing a Japanese tourist off a cliff on Kauai [near the Kalalau Valley] on December 16 has been indicted on a charge of attempted murder and is being sought by police.

COMMENT: The victim, who is 31 years of age,  fell some 15 feet after she was pushed and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. She spent eleven days in the hospital and was released on December 27.

Once apprehended, Klein will be held on bail set at $1 million. 

Solo travelers and tourists, by virtue of the fact that they are alone, must by necessity be vigilant of others around them at all times and alert to suspicious or threatening behavior.

Although in most developed nations there are laws providing victim-based support and financial assistance, such services are rarely available in developing countries, which is why I always suggest that travelers subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage before they leave home.

Without such international medical coverage, it is always possible, depending on the extent of the victim's injuries, that travelers may face huge medical bills before they can leave the country. Generally, such insurance runs less than $10 a day, which affords travelers a great deal of peace of mind.

For information on Hawaii's victim compensation law, see:

http://www.courts.state.hi.us/services/adult_client_services/crime_victim_compensation

Kauai, often referred to as the Garden Island,  is geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. With an area of 562.3 square miles, it is the fourth largest of the main islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, and the 21st largest island in the United States. The island's population is 67,100.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Russia: Putin Signs Bill Prohibiting Americans from Adopting Russian Orphans

According to The Associated Press, President Vladimir Putin signed into law early on Friday (December 28) a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, abruptly terminating the prospects for more than 50 children preparing to join new families in the US.

COMMENT: The move is part of a harsh response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Although some top Russian officials, including the foreign minister, openly opposed the bill, Putin signed it less than 24 hours after receiving it from Parliament, where it passed both houses overwhelmingly. 

The law technically takes effect on January 1, 2013, yet children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said 52 children who were in the pipeline for US adoption would remain in Russia

The ban is in response to a measure signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this month that calls for sanctions against Russians assessed to be human rights violators. 

The US law stems from the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after accusing officials of a $230 million tax fraud. He was repeatedly denied medical treatment and died in jail in 2009. Russian rights groups claimed he was severely beaten.

Vladimir Lukin, head of the Russian Human Rights Commission and a former ambassador to Washington, said he would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court. 

UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The US is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children: more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans over the past two decades.


Philippines: New Video Clip Confirms that Kidnapped Australian Warren Rodwell Fatigued, Gaunt, Emotionally Weakened

The release of new video footage showing Australian hostage Warren Rodwell, 54, alive, albeit fatigued and strained, is a positive sign, after being kidnapped from the small town of Ipil on December 5, 2011, well over a year ago.

The regional terror group, Abu Sayyaf, has demanded $2 million for the return of Rodwell.

COMMENT: It needs to be acknowledged that the Australian government has had a no-ransom policy applied to Australian citizens for many years.

That being said, it is unlikely that Mr. Rodwell or his family have the financial resources to pay such a substantial ransom demand.

Considering that the Muslim group has invested a year in keeping Rodwell healthy and well, all the while moving him frequently to avoid government patrols, it is unlikely that Abu Sayyaf is going to turn Rodwell over for a fraction of their stated ransom demand.

Although some experts have advised the Australian government to emphasize with Abu Sayyaf the amount of foreign assistance funds that the Australians have been provided to Mindanao and the Islamic south in recent years, it is unlikely that such a strategy is going to make the group feel "soft and fuzzy."

From a lessons-learned standpoint it is important to emphasize that Rodwell seemingly made choices which influenced his being kidnapped to begin with:
  1. He declined personal protection offered to him by local police; 
  2. In violation of the Australian government's travel warning to its citizens to avoid travel to the Muslim south, Rodwell ignored such advice;
  3. Rodwell overestimated his ability to defend himself against kidnappers, thinking a pistol would be sufficient against experienced gunmen armed with assault rifles;
  4.  As a result, when Rodwell was kidnapped, he resisted and was superficially shot; and
  5. Rodwell failed to realize his value as kidnap target while at the same time not having the family resources to secure his release.
The latest video clip released by Rodwell's captors depict the Australian as looking fatigued, gaunt and psychologically exasperated. 

In the two-minute clip, clutching a local newspaper dated December 15, Rodwell is quoted as saying, ''I do not trust the Abu Sayyaf, I do not trust the Australian government,'' he said. ''I just don't trust anyone. Personally, I don't care.''

In the end, tourists and travelers of all nations must comply with the travel warnings released by their governments.

Panamá: Tocumen International Airport Positioned to Lead Air Passenger/Freight Traffic in Latin America

According to EFE,  Panamá's Tocumen International Airport is positioned to surpass even airports in México and Argentina in terms of passenger and freight traffic.

As a result of such volume, the Panama City airport is expected to surpass all other nations in the region in terms of both passenger and freight volume, influenced heavily by the Colón free trade zone. 

COMMENT:  The Colón Free Trade Zone (CFTZ) is a large entity at the Atlantic gateway to the Panama Canal and is focused on re-exporting a wide variety of merchandise to Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a free port, the largest such port in the Americas and second largest in the world.

The CFTZ began operations in 1948 and occupies about 600 acres. It is located near the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal. Today, the CFTZ receives over 250,000 visitors a year and is home to 1,751 companies. It generated exports and re-exports valued at over US$6.5 billion in 2005, which are able to harness the services and facilities offered by the free zone for importing, storing, assembling, repacking and re-exporting products from all over the world.
The Zone is an important transshipped supplier of goods to other free zones such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, the US, Japan, Korea, France, México, Italy, Switzerland, the UK, Malaysia and Germany. These countries supplied nearly 87% of all Colón Free Zone imports in 2004. Colombia is the largest buyer of merchandise, buying nearly 16% of Colón Free Zone exports.

Russia: Italian Tourist, 42, Dies from Apparent Heart Attack at Party in St. Petersburg

While attending a family gathering in St. Petersburg this week, an Italian tourist, 42, died suddenly from a heart attack after having a couple of drinks.

According to preliminary reports, the Italian tourist and his wife arrived in St. Petersburg on December 22 and were scheduled to return home to Italy on January 6.

COMMENT: Although family members called for an ambulance, by the time the man could be treated, he had already been pronounced dead.

It is prudent that the family is going to have an autopsy conducted on the decedent to determine what may have caused the apparent heart attack. 

Unfortunately, in Russia, the quality control on alcohol is often suspect, particularly when a relatively young person dies suddenly.

Hopefully, those conducting the autopsy, in concert with the family, will also order a toxicological report to determine what brand of alcohol the man drank prior to his death, in addition to determining whether the man had preexisting cardiovascular disease.

Generally speaking, I normally suggest that all travelers and tourists consume only IMPORTED alcoholic beverages, so as to eliminate the potential risk of drinking contaminated or unsafe beverages. 

Ecuador: Ten Killed, 17 Injured When Bus Driver Loses Control on Mountain Curve

According to EFE, at least 10 people were killed and 17 others injured in a commuter bus accident on Wednesday (December 26) in Tungurahua, a province in Ecuador’s Andean region.

The accident occurred when the driver lost control of the bus while maneuvering a mountain curve, causing the bus to leave the roadway and plunge roughly 250 meters (820 feet) while traveling from Ambato to Pillaro.

COMMENT: Forty passengers were aboard the bus at the time.

After working in Latin America for roughly 20 years, I must urge travelers and tourists to be particularly cautious when taking rural commuter buses, as very often drivers are inexperienced and poorly paid and buses often are transporting more passengers than safety permits.

Alternatively, it is far safer to hire a car and driver through a luxury hotel or even better to fly on scheduled or chartered aircraft, particularly when traveling in mountainous regions where guard-rails are rare and fatal accidents a frequent occurrence.

Finally, all travelers and tourists should subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage before departure in the event they fall ill or are injured while abroad.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Russia: Putin Says He Will Sign Bill into Law Banning Americans from Adopting Russian Orphans

Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier today (December 27) that he will sign into law a Parliamentary bill barring US citizens from adopting Russian children, while the Kremlin's children's rights advocate has recommended extending the ban to the rest of the world.

COMMENT: Interestingly, Americans have adopted anywhere from 45,000-60,000 Russian children over the last 20 years. Additionally, roughly 740,000 Russian orphans are without parents.

Clearly, the Putin government is placing political factors ahead of  the welfare of children, all in the interest of Russia's cooling relationship with the West. 
 

Thailand: Jet Ski Scamers Victimize Tourists in South, Swiss Tourist, 27, Beaten by Operators

This is an old problem that I have raised in the past. Namely, Thailand's unwillingness to tightly regulate hundreds of jet-ski rental operators who charge tourists exorbitant costs for damages that were preexisting before a a given tourist rented a water-craft.

On Wednesday (December 26) hoteliers, restaurants and transportation companies called on local authorities to crack down on jet-ski rental operators at all beach resorts, particularly after a Swiss tourist, 27, was beaten up by four jet-ski operators in Koh Samui for refusal to pay for damages he did not cause.
 
Fortunately, the assailants that physically attacked the Swiss tourist have been arrested, charged and remanded for aggravated assault.

COMMENT: The reality is that many of the jet-ski rental operators are connected to local elements of organized crime who by design charge tourists with damages they did not cause and threaten them with assault if they refuse to pay.

Part of the problem is a minority of local police who solicit bribes for looking the other way, thus causing tourists to continue to be victimized by the operators, the latter of whom often rent jet-skis only to be later forced to pay inflated sums for repairs when they return the craft.  

Most of the jet-skis already have superficial damage before they are rented out, but the customers tend not to thoroughly inspect the craft before they take custody of it. 

If local authorities don't crack down on the scams, tourists do have the option of choosing NOT to rent jet-skis or face the consequences. Please, buyer beware.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Russia: Parliament Approves Ban Against Americans Adopting Russian Children, Putin Likely to Sign Bill into Law

According to The Associated Press, the Russian Parliament's upper house voted unanimously on Wednesday (December 26) to ban Americans from adopting Russian children.

The bill is widely seen as a tit-for-tat measure against an American law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. The vote on the bill comes at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken an increasingly confrontational attitude toward the West.

Dozens of Russian children close to being adopted by American families will almost certainly be blocked from leaving the country. The law also cuts off the main international adoption avenue for Russian children who are left to poor conditions in orphanages. It is estimated that 45,000 Russian children have been adopted in the US over the last 20 years.

All 143 members of the Federation Council present voted to support the bill, while the vote has sparked criticism from both US and Russian officials and child advocates who contend it victimizes children by depriving them of the chance to escape the squalor of orphanage life. The vote comes days after Parliament's lower house overwhelmingly approved the ban.

COMMENT: Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov told the Interfax news agency that 46 children who were on the verge of being adopted by Americans would stay in Russia if the bill is approved. 

By Tuesday (December 25), more than 100,000 Russians had signed an online petition urging the Kremlin to scrap the bill.

The proposed adoption ban is part of a broader plan conceived as Russia's response to a new US law known as the Magnitsky Act, for Sergei Magnitsky, a hedge-fund lawyer who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing alleged fraud and corruption among officials. That law imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials and their families suspected to have been involved in the Magnitsky case or other human-rights violations.

If Putin signs the bill into law, it no doubt will leave roughly 740,000 homeless Russian children to the squalor prevailing in state-run orphanages with few resources.

Somalia: US Department of State Urges Citizens to Avoid All Travel

Effective December 26, the US Department of State continues to warn US citizens to avoid all travel to Somalia. This replaces the Travel Warning dated June 15, 2012, to update information on security concerns.

There is no US Embassy or other formal U.S. diplomatic presence in Somalia. Consequently, the U.S. government is not in a position to assist or effectively provide services to US citizens in Somalia. In light of this and continuous security threats, the US government recommends that you avoid all travel to Somalia. 

For the full text of the Department's travel warning, see:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5849





Monday, December 24, 2012

Pakistan: Kidnappers of German Aid Worker, Seized 11 Months Ago, Threatened with Death

According to The Associated Press (AP), German aid worker Bernd Muehlenbeck, 59, employed by German Agro Action, who was abducted some 11 months ago by mujahedeen fighters in the city of Multan, appeared in a video on December 22, warning that he would be killed unless his captors demands are met.

In January 2012, gunmen reportedly seized Muehlenbeck and an unnamed Italian colleague outside their offices in Multan and fled with them.

COMMENT: In the undated video lasting roughly a minute, Mr. Muehlenbeck, speaking from a prepared script in English, referred to his captors' demands, but gave no details as to what they were.

He also calmly stated that he and his colleague could be executed in a matter of days unless the demands made to the German government were fulfilled.  

Kidnappings for ransom are frequent occurrence in Pakistan. Several aid workers have been targeted over the past years.

This week also saw a gruesome series of deadly attacks on Pakistanis working on a polio vaccination campaign. Six of the aid workers gunned down were women, three of whom were teenagers. Two other workers were critically wounded.

Western aid organizations are urged to provide their employees and contractors extensive security support in their residences, offices and when traveling to and from project activities. This should also include the use of ballistic resistant vehicles in order to deter and prevent kidnappings.

Caribbean: Royal Caribbean Cruise-ship Returns to Miami Early, After Infant Injured

A Royal Caribbean cruise-ship, the Monarch of the Seas, which only left Miami on Friday (December 21), promptly returned to its port of embarkation [Miami] after a 14-month-old child fell and was injured while aboard the ship. Upon arrival in Miami, the child was hospitalized.

COMMENT: Although passenger safety no doubt is the most important factor aboard any commercial vessel, Royal Caribbean no doubt will face a public relations challenge by having to reimburse its passengers or provide them a round-trip cruise in the future.

The vessel's ports of call included Coca Cay and Nassau.

For those cruise passengers who do not have young children, I often suggest that they consider an adult-only cruise or one that has low occupancy, so as to avoid injured or sick children having to return to the port of embarkation earlier than scheduled.   

  

 

Nigeria: Ansaru, an Off-Shoot of Boko Haram, Claims Responsibility for Kidnapping of French Engineer

According to Reuters, and as a follow-up to my posting of December 22, Ansaru, a splinter group of the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for abducting French engineer Francis Colump, 63, who is employed by the French multinational firm of Vergnet.

The abduction occurred at the Frenchman's residence in the small town of Rimi.

Mr. Colump was kidnapped by Ansaru on December 19, with a massive kidnap team of roughly 30 gunmen.

Ansaru's full organizational name is Jama'atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan, which roughly translates as "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa".
 

COMMENT: Last month the UK designated Ansaru a terrorist organization, saying it was philosophically aligned with al-Qaeda and was behind the kidnapping of a British and a Italian killed earlier this year during a failed joint British-Nigerian rescue attempt.

With Colump's abduction, nine French citizens are now being held hostage in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Seven others are in the arid Sahel belt and one in Somalia.


It is unknown as to when a multinational force might be deployed in northern Mali. Hopefully, the timetable of such a deployment should be kept secret.






Bali: Singaporean Tourist, 40, With Heart Ailments Dies While Mountain Hiking

According to The Jakarta Globe, Suresh Perumal Ramaswamy, 40, a permanent resident of Singapore, died while climbing with a guided group on Bali's Mount Batur on December 22. The group included five tourists and two guides.

Tragically, Mr. Ramaswamy, who reportedly had a history of heart ailments, died at a mere 500 meters above sea level, which suggests that he very probably should not have been engaged in mountain hiking.

COMMENT: Our condolences and sympathies go out to Mr. Ramaswamy's family, yet it is sad to see a person so young and having such promise die unnecessarily. 

The group departed from Pura Jati on the southern slope of Mount Batur, which stands at 1,717 meters above sea level.

A joint team from the local police and Bali's search and rescue agency brought Mr. Ramaswamy's body down, amid heavy rains and carried it to a hospital in Denpasar

Police rescuers reportedly mentioned that the group should not have attempted the ascent during inclement weather.

As I have said in the past, tourists and travelers, particularly those with known cardiovascular disease, should have a complete physical examination from their medical provider before traveling abroad and obtain the necessary prescribed medications to control their condition(s).

Additionally, those with heart ailments should specifically ask their physicians the detailed limits of physical exertion. Unfortunately, many patients intentionally don't ask that critical question.

Finally, anyone with or without known ailments, particularly cardiovascular disease, should subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage.   


Saturday, December 22, 2012

México: Former US Marine Imprisoned on Firearms Violations Released, Back Home

As a follow-up to my previous postings on the imprisonment of former US Marine and combat veteran Jon Hammar, 27,  thanks in large part to the efforts of Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and Mr. Hammar's Mexican attorney, Eddie Varón Levy. The American is now safely back in the United States. 

US Department of State representatives from the US Consulate General in Matamoros escorted Hammar to the US border, where he was reunited with members of his family.

COMMENT: Thanks are also extended to the Department of State and Members of Congress who worked tirelessly to seek Mr. Hammar's release from a 12-to-15 year prison sentence.

Having worked in México for many years, I would urge all travelers do do the following before entering México:

1. Ensure that you carry NO firearms, ammunition or knives of any kind, not in checked luggage or carry-on luggage; and

2. Thoroughly review the website of the nearest embassy or consulate to the port of entry through which you will be entering México and comply fully with all regulations.

It should be noted that in México's dysfunctional criminal justice system, Hammar was shackled to his bed and imprisoned for five months without ever appearing before a judge.

Shortly after Mr. Hammar's arrest and incarceration, I noted two websites that tourists and travelers MUST review before even contemplating the taking of any firearm, ammunition or even some types of knives into México:

http://www.tijuana.usconsulate.gov/tijuana/warning

http://www.mexonline.com/mexguns


Additionally, on the US Embassy's website in Mexico City, it states that:

"The Department of State warns all US citizens against taking any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico. Entering México with a firearm, certain types of knives, or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the weapon or ammunition is taken into Mexico unintentionally." Mexican law also bans shotguns with barrels less than 25 inches; Mr. Hammar's .410 gauge shotgun was 24 inches in length.

Costa Rica: Direct Flights from ORD to San José to Begin in April

United Airlines (UA) announced on Wednesday (December 19) to begin new non-stop service on several international and domestic routes in the spring, including weekly year-round service between Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport (ORD) and San José scheduled to begin on April 13.

The flight is subject to government approval and will operate using Boeing 737-800 aircraft, the company said in a release.

COMMENT: From other hubs, UA also will begin international service between Washington Dulles International Airport and San José, subject to governmental approval.

The airline is also planning to launch new domestic services from Dulles to Vancouver, British Columbia, between Newark and Edmonton and between Denver and Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Nigeria: US Department of State "Discourages" Non-Essential Travel, But Does Not Go Far Enough

The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of travel to Nigeria, particularly during the holiday season, and continues to recommend that US citizens avoid all but essential travel to the following states because of the risk of kidnappings, robberies, and other armed attacks: Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Plateau, Gombe, Yobe, Kaduna, Bauchi, Borno, and Kano states.  

The Department also warns against travel to the Gulf of Guinea because of the threat of piracy.  Based on safety and security risk assessments, the Embassy has placed further restrictions for travel by US officials to all northern Nigerian states (in addition to those listed above); officials must receive advance clearance by the Embassy as being mission-essential.  

US citizens should be aware that, in light of the continuing violence, extremists may expand their operations beyond northern Nigeria to the country's middle and southern states.  

In 2012, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for many attacks, mainly in northern Nigeria.  Boko Haram is responsible for the injury and death of thousands of people. Multiple Suicide Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIED) targeted churches, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, Taraba, and Yobe states.

On October 1, 2012, more than 50 students were killed in attacks in Adamawa State.  Several drinking establishments were attacked in Bauchi, Taraba, and Kaduna in September and October 2012.  Churches were targeted in Bauchi, Kaduna, and Kogi in July and August 2012.  There were also attacks against police stations and markets in Sokoto in July 2012.  From July 6 to 8, sectarian violence claimed over 100 lives in the Jos metropolitan area and villages in Plateau State.  In July, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded in the parking lot of an Abuja shopping center, and in June, an IED exploded outside a nightclub in Abuja.  The June 17, 2012, attacks on three churches in the state of Kaduna led to violence throughout the state.  At least 10 people were killed and an additional 78 injured in the ensuing riots, as groups barricaded roads, burned mosques, and used machetes to attack and kill.  

In response to the violence, the Kaduna state government imposed a 24-hour curfew and deployed additional security forces to restore peace; however, violence between Christians and Muslims continued throughout the week.  In April, assailants attacked Theatre Hall at Bayero University, Kano, with IEDs and weapons.  Also in April, VBIEDs simultaneously exploded at the offices of "This Day" newspaper in Abuja and Kaduna. 

In December 2011, the President of Nigeria declared a state of emergency in 15 local government areas in the states of Borno, Niger, Plateau, and Yobe.  This State of Emergency remains in effect, although with modification in some areas.  According to the Government of Nigeria, the declaration of a state of emergency gives the government sweeping powers to search and arrest without warrants.  Several states in the north are under various curfews, which change frequently. All US citizens should remain aware of current situations including curfews, travel restrictions, and states of emergency in the areas they are in or plan to visit.  This information is commonly announced via the news media, but at times it can change with very little notice.  Please take the time to find out this information for your area. 

Boko Haram also claimed credit for the June 2011 bombing of the Nigerian Police Headquarters building and the August 2011 suicide bombing at the United Nations building, both in Abuja. 

Kidnappings continue to be a security concern that exists throughout the country.  In the first six months of 2012, five foreign nationals, including two US citizens, were kidnapped in Kwara, Imo, Enugu, Delta, and Kano states.  Criminals or militants have abducted foreign nationals, including US citizens from offshore and land-based oil facilities, residential compounds, and public roadways. Nine foreign nationals have died in connection with these abductions, including three who were killed by their captors during military-led raids.  Local authorities and expatriate businesses operating in Nigeria assert that the number of kidnapping incidents throughout Nigeria is under-reported. 

US citizen visitors and residents have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglaries, car-jackings, rapes, kidnappings, and extortion.  Home invasions also remain a serious threat, with armed robbers accessing even guarded compounds by scaling perimeter walls, following residents or visitors or subduing guards to gain entry to homes or apartments.  Armed robbers in Lagos have also accessed waterfront compounds by boat.  US citizens, as well as Nigerians and other expatriates, have been victims of armed robbery at banks and grocery stores and on airport roads during both daylight and evening hours. Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all and provide little or no investigative support to victims. US citizens, Nigerians, and other expatriates have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian law enforcement officials.  Traveling outside of major cities after dark is not recommended because of both crime and road safety concerns.  Attacks by pirates off the coast of Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea have increased in recent years.  Armed gangs have boarded both commercial and private vessels to rob travelers.  The Nigerian Navy has limited capacity to respond to criminal acts at sea. 

Beginning in September 2012, extremists attacked cellular telephone towers in Northern Nigeria, damaging over 50 towers and degrading cellular telephone and internet communications nationwide.  Additional attacks could further weaken the ability of citizens to communicate through cellular telephones and the internet. Land line telephone communications in Nigeria remain extremely limited.  US citizens should attempt to arrange for multiple means of communication during emergencies. 

The situation in the country remains fluid and unpredictable.  The US Department of State strongly urges US citizens in Nigeria to consider their own personal security and to keep personal safety in the forefront of their planning.  

COMMENT: I have worked in Nigeria extensively over the years and must say that travel to anywhere in the country is not for the faint of heart.  

Only those who have a keen sense of personal security awareness and the resources to effectively protect themselves should consider travel to Nigeria.

Although the Department "discourages" non-essential travel to Nigeria, I would personally urge foreigners to avoid ALL travel to Nigeria unless they have been afforded extensive hands-on security trained designed to address the numerous personal threats that will be encountered there and have the resources to ensure their effective protection.