Violent crime is on the upswing in the Bahamas

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Bahamas-bound travelers, beware.

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Bahamas-bound travelers, beware.

Crime in the popular tourist destination is on the upswing, especially on New Providence Island, where the capital city, Nassau, is located. And we’re not talking just petty thefts or purse-snatching, but far more serious violent crime.

This island nation finished 2009 with a record 87 murders — a statistic tourism officials probably won’t be trumpeting in their next “It’s Better in the Bahamas” ad.

More recently, on Feb. 25, an American tourist was attacked in his hotel room on usually tranquil Harbour Island (60 miles from Nassau) by two men wielding a cutlass, according to the Tribune newspaper. The victim survived and suspects are in custody, but the incident prompted police and Ministry of Tourism officials to meet with concerned Harbour Island residents last Monday.

Bahamian officials from Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham on down have publicly acknowledged the problem and taken steps to address it, putting more police on the streets in Nassau, especially after 18 cruise ship passengers became victims of an armed robbery in November.

The criminal activity has prompted the operators of the world’s largest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, to warn its passengers to “be mindful of their personal safety,” the Nassau Guardian newspaper reported.

CoGo isn’t waving sun-seekers away from the Bahamas, because most of the violent crime seems to have occurred in New Providence’s “Over the Hill” neighborhoods, where few tourists venture. Would-be tourists should also know that crime hasn’t been as much of an issue in the Bahamas’ less populated Family Islands, such as Exuma, Bimini and Abaco.

Even so, “be mindful” seems like an appropriate mantra for visitors, especially in Nassau, where the State Department has reported “assaults, including sexual assaults, in diverse areas such as in casinos, outside hotels, or on cruise ships.”

Some Bahamians attribute the crime wave to high unemployment (hovering around 15 percent on New Providence Island, according to the Guardian) and the nation’s status as a gathering spot for drug traffickers.

On a personal note, CoGo saw no evidence of criminal activity during a recent three-day stay in Nassau, if you discount the scruffy young man who whispered “coke, weed, coke, weed” as we strolled along Bay Street, the main shopping drag, one evening.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.