Saturday, March 30, 2013

Republic of South Sudan: US Department of State Recommends Against All Travel

The US Department of State continues to warn US citizens of the risks of travel to the Republic of South Sudan and strongly recommends that such citizens defer ALL travel to the country, including  the states in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan (Upper Nile, Unity, and Western Bar el Ghazai states in South Sudan; Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan; and the Abyei Special Administrative District). 

COMMENT: Although fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has declined since early 2012, the potential for troop build-ups along the border and renewed fighting continues to be a legitimate threat. 

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

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5916

Egypt: Two Argentines, Egyptian Driver Killed, Others Injured in Aswan, Life-Safety in Question


According to the Xinhua news service, two Argentine tourists and an Egyptian driver were killed on Friday (March 29) during an accident between a tourist vehicle and a truck. Two other Argentines were also injured in the accident.

For those who don't know Aswan, it is located roughly 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Cairo. The accident occurred at the 150 km marker on the Aswan-Abu Simbel Highway.

The three decedents and the two injured victims were taken to Aswan University Hospital.

COMMENT:  Having worked and lived in Egypt a good part of my professional life, I must caution our readers that Egypt is by far one of the most dangerous countries in the world for fatal traffic accidents.

And sadly, despite the US putting roughly US$39 billion into foreign assistance in Egypt since 1974, the death toll on Egyptian roadways, many of whom are foreign tourists, has never declined.

Also on Friday, three Egyptians were killed and several others were injured when two trucks collided on the Cairo-Alexandria Highway. One of the trucks was loaded with diesel fuel while the other carried a number of workers, resulting in both vehicles being set ablaze.

On March 2, also in Aswan and on the same highway, a mini-bus overturned killing one Chinese tourist and leaving three other Chinese nationals injured. The accident came a few days after nine tourists from China's Hong Kong were killed in a hot balloon explosion in Egypt's southern province of Luxor, which in all claimed 19 lives and injured two.

Unfortunately, foreign tourism in Egypt has declined dramatically since the 2011 Revolution, influenced heavily by a central government that seems to be more preoccupied with ideology than in promoting tourism.

The New Egypt is also a country which seems to be in a daily state of crisis of one sort or the other, created largely by street protests and those in the Mohamed Morsi government that appear to be motivated largely by Islamic conservatism rather than economic development.  

Having traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Egypt is one country that I would NOT consciously choose to visit as a tourist. It has become a very unpredictable destination where accidents, congestion and political strife dominate the landscape.

Clearly, both in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the Middle East, there are countless destinations that offer tourists a much more pleasant and predictable travel experience than that found in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian government has done little to deter the occasional kidnapping of foreign tourists.


 

Spain: Lives of Israeli Honeymooners Changed Forever by Freak Traffic Accident in Barcelona

According to The Times of Israel, unexpected traffic accidents somehow are never expected to occur while newlyweds are on their honeymoon, yet it sometimes does happen, leaving us puzzled and confused as to why such events occur when two young lives with such promise are taken from us.

Israeli newlyweds Nadav Shalom and Hadar Shalgi, 30, were standing at a pedestrian crossing in Barcelona last Saturday (March 23), when a collision between two vehicles resulted in one of the cars hitting Shalgi and causing her severe head injuries.

Ms. Shalgi remained unconscious in a Barcelona hospital until doctors pronounced her dead yesterday (March 29), following a week-long struggle to save her life.

COMMENT:  Such events as these are a reminder as to just how perishable and uncertain life actually is, even when a life together is just beginning.

In many cases of our reports, a bad life choice can be analyzed with speculation as to what the outcome may have been in the choices had been different, yet in this case, this young couple was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unfortunately, many of us never know when our last day on Earth will be, which is why I have said so many times in the past, "we must always be prepared for a life-altering moment, not knowing when that last day will be."

If there is any lesson-learned from this tragedy, it is that we must live every day of our life as if it were our last, knowing that we may never see loved ones again.   


Thursday, March 28, 2013

UAE: Harrassment, Prosecution of Expats Rising for Drinking Alcohol, Lunch with Women Not Married To

According to The Mirror, a British woman and a teacher in Abu Dhabi, was arrested earlier this week for having lunch at the home of a man who was not her husband and for consuming alcohol therein.

The woman appeared at Abu Dhabi's Misdemeanor Court where she told a judge that she had only entered the Syrian man’s house after accompanying another male colleague there for lunch.

The court was told that the Syrian, who has also been detained, had thrown his wife out of the house last week.

Unfortunately, the estranged wife of the Syrian called police and reported that she had been forced out of the home.

COMMENT: When police went to the house the next day to speak to the man they found the British woman enjoying an after-lunch drink with the accused, at which point Abu Dhabi police arrested both of them and remanded them into custody. 

The teacher’s male colleague says he invited the woman to the Syrian’s house and that the two defendants did not know each other before that meeting. The male teacher had left the home before the police arrived.

The Syrian's wife, who is the legal owner of the home, pressed charges against the British woman for entering her property without permission. She later dropped the charge, yet the expat teacher is still charged with drinking alcohol without a license and being alone in the company of a man other than her husband or close relative.

Although most outsiders think of the UAE as a "wide-open" country with a burgeoning nightlife, the reality is that the only way that resident expats can legally drink in the UAE is to obtain a personal "liquor license" so that you can purchase alcohol in stores, 5-star hotel restaurants and bars in all emirates except Sharjah, where you can only drink in your home or in an expat hangout called the Sharjah Wanderers. 

Despite what you may have heard, only RESIDENT expats can legally obtain a "liquor license."  Visitors cannot.

During Ramadan, no alcohol is served during daylight (fasting) hours. Dubai and Abu Dhabi permit bars to serve alcohol at night, but bands stop playing, background music is off or quiet, no dancing is allowed and nightclubs are usually closed. On certain holy days in the Islamic calendar, no alcohol is served publicly in any of the UAE.
 

Do not under any circumstance drink and drive in the UAE. That's why they have taxis. If you're caught drinking and driving you WILL go to jail.

The consumption of alcohol is ONLY legal for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi within licensed restaurants, pubs, clubs, or private venues. Additionally, non-Muslim expats living in Abu Dhabi with residence status can apply for an alcohol licence, which entitles them to purchase alcohol from specialized stores and then consume their beverage of choice at home.

For legal purposes, if planning to consume alcohol in Abu Dhabi it's best to have a license, even if only planning to drink in licensed establishes.

This DOES NOT make an expat exempt from charges of public drunkenness, an arrestable offense in Abu Dhabi. 


Moreover, expats who expect family members to visit on a visitor's visa, be exceptionally careful if planning to consume alcohol. Those on a tourist visa cannot purchase an alcohol license, which makes consumption technically illegal.

Sexual relationships outside of marriage are strictly illegal. You can be arrested and jailed for having sex in any form with someone you are not married to.

Dancing in public is considered provocative and indecent.

Publicly photographing women without their permission is frowned upon. Furthermore, it's illegal to take pictures of military, airport or government installations in the emirate.

Kissing, hugging and generally displaying affection in public is against the law. It's fine for a married couple to hold hands in public, but anything beyond that will result in serious repercussions.

It's strictly illegal and forbidden to bring drugs into Abu Dhabi. Even the slightest, residual amount (a marijuana seed stuck in the rubber sole of your shoe) can result in arrest, a four-year imprisonment and then deportation.

Expats bringing prescription drugs to Abu Dhabi should bring a doctor's note and should make an effort to notify authorities beforehand.


By far, the best policy for expats is to NOT drive if they're going to drink.

To be safe, obtain a "liquor license" and drink only at home. If you're caught by the police drinking without a license, the fine can be US$136 or more.

Sadly, a foreign expat new to the UAE may assume they can drink anywhere where alcohol is served. Not so. Get a "liquor license" first. 

Finally, if you are convicted of any crime in the UAE, you could well find yourself being deported, as you have only those rights provided to you in the UAE. Being deported for cause is not a good thing. 

Libya: Five British Activists Abducted, One Raped in NGO Convoy in Benghazi

According to Reuters, one of five British activists of Pakistani origin was raped this week in Benghazi, while traveling by humanitarian convoy organized by the Turkish NGO, IHH.

COMMENT: Several details of the abduction have not been confirmed, thus details continue to remain sketchy, pending forensic analysis.
 

The diplomatic source also said there had been arrests in the case, without specifying how many. Another source said the family was now being looked after at the Turkish consulate in Benghazi.

Our readers are reminded that a number of Western foreign affairs agencies have recommended AGAINST foreigners traveling beyond Tripoli.

Latin Ameríca: Death Toll Rises from Accidents on Mountain Roads,"Red Flag" for Tourists

Another bus accident in Péru’s southern region of Arequipa claimed more than 24 lives on Wednesday (March 27) when an inter-provincial bus traveling in the mountainous sector of Quiscos, at Km 88 near Orcopampa, on the road to Puño, went off a 120-meter (393 feet) cliff. 

The accident occurred just two weeks after 15 people were killed when a  bus plunged over a 150-meter (492 feet) cliff, also in Arequipa, on the Pan American Highway between Arequipa and Camaná.

COMMENT: As I have said numerous times in the past,  and particularly in Péru and Bolivia, most long-haul bus traffic accidents occur because of poor vehicle maintenance, over-tired drivers, excessive speed and driver inexperience.
 
The bus was reportedly owned by a company called Andares. It left the district of Orcopampa yesterday and was en-route to the city of Arequipa. Forty-eight people were on board, roughly half of whom died in the terrifying crash.

I strongly discourage foreign travelers from taking commuter buses in Péru and Bolivia, as the majority of buses operate on very dangerous, mountain roads.

Far safer options include taking reliable domestic flights or even renting a car and driver from a luxury hotel in major cities.

Traveling by bus in these two countries is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette.  

Arizona: Colorado Tourist, 46, Killed After Horse, Rider Fall from Trail

According to http://www.cbs.com, a Colorado Springs tourist was killed earlier this week as the result of guided horseback riding tour back up the Grand Canyon from Havasupai Village to Hilltop.  

Coconino County Sheriff’s spokesman Gerry Blair says several witnesses reported seeing William Kevin Hagins, 46, riding in a line of horses on a guided trip when the riders approached a stretch of trail with a sheer drop-off.  The horse appeared to have dislodged a rock on the trail, with both the horse and rider plummeting approximately 12-feet off the cliff with the horse landing on top of Hagins.  

COMMENT:  Although the horse strangely survived the substantial fall, Mr. Hagins died at the scene.

Blair said that a hired guide had been leading Hagins, his wife, his 5-year-old child and others out of the village of Supai. The village, deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon, is home to the Havasupai Tribe. It is popular for its towering blue-green waterfalls and can be accessed only by helicopter or trail.

Although many guided horse tours can be safely accomplished with inexperienced riders, any terrain with sheer ledges and cliffs and riders who may not be comfortable with heights, can potentially result in serious accidents.

Just because a horse tour is offered to tourists, does not mean that there are not inherent risks.

Most recently, a young US tourist fell from a horse while riding in Costa Rica, resulting in a serious head injury that prompted cardiac arrest and subsequent death.  

 

Egypt: Update--Israeli, Norwegian Tourists Released by Bedouin Gunmen After Being Held for 4 Days

As a follow-up to my recent posting, Nazareth resident Arab-Israeli Amir Omar Hassan, 26, a student at Ben-Gurion University, and Norwegian pediatrician Dr. Ingvild Selvik Ask, 32, who were kidnapped on March 22, by Bedouin gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula, were released late on Tuesday (March 26).

It is unknown as to how the Arab-Israeli and the Norwegian couple came to be traveling together, but apparently they were visiting the resort of Taba on the border with Israel, and Dahab further south when they were abducted by six gunmen, believed to be Bedouin tribesmen.

COMMENT: Friday's kidnapping did not appear to be politically motivated, although those close to the case say that the kidnappers wanted to exchange the hostages for jailed relatives, and in fact declined an offer of money from the Norwegian Embassy.

In recent months, the kidnapping of foreigners in the Sinai have been occurring with increasing frequency, although most kidnap victims are well-treated, cared for and not harmed, although their schedules have been disrupted from time to time.

As I have emphasized of late, the government of Mohamed Morsi seems to care less if foreigners are regularly abducted in the Sinai, although they have endeavored to help them when abducted.

That being said, The New Egypt has not taken steps to place armed police on tour buses in order to discourage continued abductions.  

The two kidnapped tourists decided to share a taxi to travel to Dahab. Both planned to vacation in the Sinai despite extensive warnings by Israel's Counter-terrorism Bureau. 

On March 7, Bedouin kidnapped a British couple, only to release them within hours after talks with security officials. The Britons had been abducted from a bank in a town as they headed towards the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Both Amir Omar Hassan, 26, and Norwegian pediatrician, Dr. Ingvild Selvik Ask, 32, spoke to reporters upon arrival at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday, but offered few details as to how they came to be traveling together.

As I have said most recently, travel in the Sinai Peninsula is discouraged for foreign tourists on the basis that it is unknown when the next abduction will occur.

Those initiating travel inside Israel would be well-served by following the advice of the Israeli government and not traveling in the Sinai.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Egypt: Kidnappers of Tourists Refuse Ransom Offer Tendered by Norwegian Embassy

According to The Daily News Egypt, kidnappers of an unidentified Norwegian tourist and his Israeli companion in the Sinai Peninsula confirmed on Friday (March 22)  that officials from the Norwegian Embassy in Cairo offered them a large sum of money in exchange for their release, only to be turned down by the abductors.

Subsequently, the kidnappers emphasized that they did not capture the tourists to claim a ransom, but to pressure Egypt’s security forces to release one of their relatives being held on what they referred to as “false and fabricated” charges. The captors added that the tourists would be released if their relative was released on bail.

Thus far, a security official has stated that efforts were underway to employ tribal sheikhs to persuade the kidnappers to release the tourists, in exchange for promises from security forces to review the charges of the relative being held in custody.

COMMENT: The tourists were reportedly kidnapped on Friday morning (March 22) by  masked men on the road from Taba to Dahab in the Al-Sa’al Valley in the city of Nuweiba. Captors kidnapped the tourists to pressure security forces to release a man captured recently in the Al-Sharqeya area.

Sources close to the captors said that the tourists were located in a mountainous region of central Sinai, saying that messages were sent to their respective embassies informing them of the situation. The captors said the tourists would continue to be held in an unknown location, and that they had been allowed to contact their embassies and relatives.

In the New Egypt of today, kidnappings by various groups continue to be a frequent occurrence, which is one reason why I discourage foreigners from traveling in the Sinai. 

Many foreign governments fail to issue travel warnings for the Sinai so as not to offend the government of Mohamed Morsi, yet they rarely are doing their citizens any favors.

The reality is that all governments have a responsibility to protect foreign tourists, yet the Morsi government just doesn't seem to care.

Most governments would  place armed guards on tour buses to protect the vitally important tourism industry, yet Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do so, putting foreign tourists at risk. 

Although in the majority of cases, captives are rarely harmed and are well cared for, the reality is that abductions have a great way of disrupting sightseeing schedules, including outbound flights.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nigeria: Kidnapped Nursing Journalist Released After Family Pays Ransom

As a follow-up to my posting of March 23, re: the March 21 abduction of nursing journalist and broadcaster for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Olubunmi Oke, who was kidnapped by four men in Akure (Ondo state) as she was preparing to leave her office with her six-month-old infant and her maid.

Given the short period of captivity that  Mrs. Oke experienced, it might well have more manageable for the abductors to kidnap only the target of the abduction.

Although initially it did not make a great deal of sense to see a journalist kidnapped, what does make perfect sense is that Mrs. Oke is married to a banker, which translates into an ideal candidate for a ransom kidnapping if it were commonly known at NTA that the family was financially comfortable, if not perceived as wealthy in crime-ridden Nigeria.

While the original demand for Mrs. Oke's release was set at N16 million (US$100,819), eventually the family agreed to pay  N1 million (US$6,300+) at which point Oke was released late on Saturday (March 23) after payment was arranged.

COMMENT: Considering that Mrs. Oke is a member of the media, she was understandably barred from granting interviews on her ordeal, as such exposure of information would only aid other would-be kidnappers with time on their hands. 

As in the case of thousands of other similar kidnap cases where the motive is money, wealthy residents, travelers and expatriates worldwide need to carefully consult professionals and assess their probability of being kidnapped for ransom.

If it is determined that there is a probable risk of being abducted, families or employers should take the additional steps of formulating a Kidnap Response Plan that addresses likely monetary demands so that the principals involved can prepare for the worst.

Additionally, such a plan would also include identifying all security vulnerabilities at home, office, school, etc. and places commonly visited so as to reduce physical, procedural and policy considerations that might well make an abduction easier.

For principals who might fetch significant ransom demands, arranging for kidnap-ransom insurance should not be ruled out, depending upon the country and the nationality of the target.    

Sunday, March 24, 2013

France: Update--Assailants Involved in Mass Robbery of 23 Chinese Tourists Evade Police

According to The Global Times, the Chinese Embassy in Paris said earlier today (March 24) that the assailants responsible for the mass robbery of 23 Chinese tourists robbed shortly after they had dinner (following their arrival at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport) on March 20 continue to evade Paris police.

The victims, from East China's Jiangsu Province, were robbed while dining at a restaurant near the airport. At least four of the robbers carried out the robbery, stealing passports, airline tickets and cash held by the tour group's guide, who was injured.


COMMENT: As I have noted in recent years, armed robbery, not to mention violent crime, continues to rise in Western Europe, including France.

The causation for much of this crime is attributed to the economic plight that many European countries now face, given their linkage to the euro, and the fact that so many  countries have high unemployment coupled with declining wages.

Additionally, such countries as Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and others are struggling to not default on their loans, as the EU has grown in size in recent years with many countries pulling down the financial base of the euro-zone. 

Although the Chinese tourists have been reissued their travel documents that were stolen during the large-scale robbery, the emotional impact of the incident will no doubt impact on the group as the continue with their trip.

Although it is appropriate for the Chinese Embassy to levy as much pressure on the French government as possible, the reality is that crimes of all categories confront tourists and travelers on a regular basis.

Unless the criminals who robbed the tourists left physical evidence that might be traceable via fingerprints, DNA, etc. or had physical characteristics that were particularly distinctive, it is highly remote that the thieves are still in Paris.  

Although it is fully understood that many Chinese travelers carry cash as they do at home, many Chinese travelers that are new to foreign travel may well have to modify their personal behavior if they hope to avoid being victimized.

Specifically, in contrast to carrying large amounts of cash with which to purchase high-value merchandise, Chinese tourists may very well have to learn to carry travelers' check debit cards or bank cards that can be used at ATMs, so as to eliminate the need to carry large amounts of cash around, thereby being less of a target to criminals.

Although tour group guides may find it easier to carry the personal funds of all travelers from China, the reality is that everyone carrying their own funds individually makes it easier for all travelers to safely conceal their money. Such an approach also is very time-consuming for mass robberies, exposing assailants to apprehension.


Global Impact: OECD Predicts That China Will be Top Economy by 2016, While US, EU Sputter

According to EFE, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is predicting that with China's economy positioned to grow by 8.5% this year and 8.9% in 2014, China could become the world’s largest economy by 2016, if it fully implements a series of regulatory, market, socioeconomic and tax reforms.

COMMENT: One dominant factor is the economic equation for China is that it is becoming less and less dependent on exports and consumption has recently been a bigger driver of growth than investment.

The OECD report expressed optimism about the political will of China’s new leaders, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Kequiang, to implement needed reforms.

Interestingly, China's economy grew by only 7.8% in 2012, influenced largely by of continuing productivity woes in both the US and the EU, China's two largest trading partners.

Thus, it is no surprise that China is moving aggressively toward securing raw materials and commodities in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Unless the US and EU strategically and quickly focuses on economic productivity rather than being the "world's policemen,"  a role they have not been particularly successful at, both entities could find themselves having to learn Mandarin.

 

Brazil: Update--Death Toll from Santa María Nightclub Fire Reaches 241, Criminal Charges Abound

According to The Latin American Herald Tribune, Brazilian police are seeking criminal charges against 16 people in connection with the January 27, 2013, nightclub fire in the southern city of Santa María that killed 241 people.

The lead investigator in the case, Marcelo Arigony, presented a report on Friday (March 22) that blames the tragedy on the owners of the Kiss nightclub, employees, a country music band that was performing at the club and firefighters responsible for carrying out inspections at the establishment.

The police are seeking murder charges against nine individuals and manslaughter charges against seven others, including Santa María Mayor Cézar Schirmer.

The fire broke out during the early morning hours when an estimated 800-900 people were inside the nightclub, whose capacity was just 600, according to investigators.

Police say flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling caught fire after one of the members of the Gurizada Fandangueira band lit a flare.

COMMENT: Autopsies on the 234 people who died inside the club showed they perished due to asphyxiation caused by carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning.

Seven others died at hospitals in Santa María and the Rio Grande do Sul state capital of Porto Alegre, the last of whom, a woman of 23, passed away on March 7.

The two owners of the nightclub and two members of Gurizada Fandangueira have been in preventive custody since the day of the fire, Brazil’s deadliest in more than a half century.

The other five who could face murder charges are the manager and two other employees of the nightclub and a pair of firefighters responsible for ensuring the establishment complied with safety regulations. Manslaughter charges are being sought against seven others.

This massive tragedy that caused the lives of 241 people, unfortunately, is indicative of life-safety hazards that prevail in so many of the world's predominantly developing countries.

Although Brazilian law enforcement is to be commended for their charging so many of those responsible who contributed to the high loss of life, the reality is that travelers and residents alike must fully understand just how vulnerable the buildings and transportation systems are in countries that have inferior building codes.

Additionally, outdated fire detection systems, ignored building safety inspections, maximum occupancy code violations and even "corner-cutting" on fire-retardant materials that are mandated or recommended are attributed to mass-casualty loss in many building fires, not to mention ill-equipped firefighters.

Finally, if any building that travelers or residents find themselves in in a developing nation that constitutes a fire hazard or overcrowding, including open flames of any type, "get out and stay away." 

Philippines: Update--Abu Sayyaf Gained Only US$117,500 from Pay-Out for Rodwell Release

COMMENT: According to http://tvnz.co.nz, the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers gained only US$117,500 ($A94,000) from their release of Australian Warren Rodwell, 54, after holding him for 15 months.

Clearly, the final pay-out was a bit more than 5% of the original demand of  US$2 million. Yet, in the end, it is the kidnap victim's release that is paramount.

Assuredly, what it took to secure Mr. Rodwell's release far, far exceeded the ransom, taking into account the resources expended by the Philippine and Australian governments, not to mention Rodwell's wife, Miraflor Gutang, and her brother Roger, and countless unnamed benefactors who contributed directly and indirectly to his release. 

For Abu Sayyaf, what they invested in the feeding and caring for the Australian and moving him from place to place to avoid police and military patrols, and what they got in the end, was no doubt a "wash," meaning they probably broke even.



Malaysia: Update--Licensed Cabby with Extensive Criminal History Arrested, Numerous Accomplices


According to Asia One News, and my postings of 1/1513, 3/13/13 and 3/14/13 (all of which should be read by readers not familiar with taxi-related robberies and rape in Malaysia), Malaysian police arrested last week two central figures in a case that has had tourists and residents alike in fear for their safety.

COMMENT: Although Malaysian police are seemingly shocked that a hardened criminal with a record of homicide and countless drug offenses could be issued a legitimate taxi permit, the long list of taxi-related robberies and rapes in recent months should have offered the cops a "clue" that they were faced with an endemic crime problem and not just one based on anecdotal incidence. 

The key suspect in the series of taxi-related felonies used his genuine taxi license to commit 37 cases of assault, abduction, robbery and rape with 11 accomplices, including three women, since January this year in the Klang Valley.

His accomplice, who was employed as a security guard at a private firm, also had a criminal record of serious proportions, including possession of drugs and dangerous weapons, kidnapping and voluntarily causing hurt.

Both men were part of an intricate gang that abducted and raped an American teacher in the Greater Kuala Lumpur area earlier in the month in Sungai Pelek, Sepang, in Selangor.

Crime observers and pundits have questioned how an actual taxi permit was issued to the ringleader when the authorities have always maintained strict vetting procedures,  THE MALAY MAIL reported.

As my postings re: incidents on both the Mainland and in the islands (including Penang) have highlighted, police assertions that the vetting of licensees was impeccable, simply does not hold water.

As most of our readers will recall, I have also commented on altercations between cabbies and fares, frequent demands for inflated charges, failure to use taxi meters and the like. Thus, there is clearly an oversight problem on the part of the police.

Although the police seem to be "hanging their hat" on the fact that one stolen taxi was reported during their investigation, that one stolen cab was obviously just the tip of the iceberg when, in fact, a criminal with a long criminal record had been issued a genuine taxi permit. 

Another four suspects have been detained in connection with the abduction and rape of the American. 

Sadly, the police have permitted a criminal enterprise of some sophistication to operate under their noses with as many as a dozen accomplices.

One can only hope that media organizations in Malaysia and abroad do their jobs, and ferret out the weaknesses and deficiencies in the issuance of taxi permits and help clean up the obvious flaws, despite police insistence that vetting is optimal. Obviously, it is not.

Residents and tourists in Malaysia should be getting far more from a taxi industry that is obviously on "life-support."  They deserve reliable, honest and ethical service. 



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cambodia: Japanese Tourist, 21, Killed in Roller Coaster Crash in Siem Reap Province

Saki Takita, 21, a female tourist from Aomori Prefecture, who arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday (March 20), was a passenger on a provincial roller coaster in the country's Siem Reap province on Friday (March 22), when the roller coaster cars suddenly left their tracks and crashed.

Situated in the front-most car of the roller coaster was Takita and a Cambodian tour guide, who were the only passengers on the ride.

Local police said that three people working at the amusement park were immediately arrested after the derailment, which is thought to have been caused by a loose bolt due to a faulty inspection of the ride.

COMMENT: Our prayers and condolences go out to Ms. Takita and her family and hope that they find peace and comfort during this period of grief.

Home to the Angkor Wat temple complex, the northern province of Siem Reap is Cambodia’s main tourist hub.

As I have often emphasized to all foreign travelers, particularly those from developed nations, it is a prudent choice to avoid amusement parks, high-risk modes of transportation, tour buses and the like in countries known to have very lax oversight and inspection of vehicles of all forms, as life and liability are often not valued as they are in developed nations.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh are assisting Ms. Takita's family with repatriation of her body to Japan and in handling consular matters.

 

Costa Rica: US Tourist, 23, Falls from Rented Horse, Dies from Heart Attack in Guanacaste

US tourist Caiklen Meredith Debroca, 23, died Wednesday (March 20) after falling off a rented horse at Brasilito Beach in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, while riding with five friends and two guides.

According to police, Debroca lost control of the horse and fell, hitting her head on a gravel road

Although Sandra Germán, a physician at a local Brasilito clinic, said she examined Debroca, who was unconscious at the beach, ordered her transported to a local clinic where she suffered cardiac arrest 10 minutes later and died.

COMMENT: Our condolences and prayers go out to Ms. Debroca's family in the hope that they find closure and peace after this young life has been suddenly taken away from them.

An autopsy has been ordered to document the victim's cause of death and any facts that contributed to her death.

Unfortunately, the riding of rented horses in Costa Rica is a widely popular tourist attraction. The reality, though, is that horses are no different from jet-skis, motorcycles or motor-scooters, as all require training and knowledge before the fact.