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August 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Is That Overseas Dive Destination Safe to Visit?

from the August, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Ben: I’m wondering about the safety of dive sites as it pertains to us Americans politically. Because of all the world tension, I’ve been staying away from Indonesia, the Red Sea, the Philippines and so on. Am I crazy to be avoiding these places or not? The worst thing I can think of is never going diving in Indonesia because the media said not to, when it really was safe all along.

- - Jim Nelson, Austin, TX

* * * * *

Jim, I can’t think of a single major dive destination I’d avoid because of the perceived risk. But you can check out how the U.S. State Department views travel risk at its Web site (http://travel.state.gov). Its reports are much calmer and more reliable than those from any blog or cable-news network. Frankly, I think too many Americans are irrationally fearful about travel risks and not always knowledgeable about geography. A few years ago, after a nightclub bombing in Bali, divers stayed away from Sulawesi, a separate island hundreds of miles away and reached primarily from Singapore. Adventurous divers reading Undercurrent are getting plenty of good diving all over the world. Here’s what the State Department is saying now about some dive destinations:

Honduras: The State Department issued a travel warning after the June military coup that ousted Honduras’ president, recommending Americans “defer all non-essential travel until further notice.” However, the Bay Islands are far from the unrest so flights directly to Roatan should be of no concern, but some people change planes in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, where there may be potential problems. Me personally? I wouldn’t worry.

Indonesia: Despite the Jakarta hotel bombings on July 18, State has not issued a travel alert and besides, the capital is a thousand miles away from Bali and dive sites at the eastern end of the country. The most recent notices focused on rising credit-card theft and fraud, and a rash of drink-spiking incidents in Bali nightclubs earlier this year. State does advise travelers to avoid crowds and keep a low profile but so far as dive resorts and liveaboards anywhere in Indonesia, I wouldn’t hesitate going.

Malaysia: State is still concerned about terrorist cells that may be in the eastern islands and coastal areas in the state of Sabah, near the Philippines. “Exercise caution, remain alert to your surroundings, and use good personal security measures.” Sipadan and popular dive destinations in the area are under police guard and filled with divers.

Mexico: State issued a February warning about increased crime and violence countrywide, recommending travelers visit only business/tourist areas and then only during daylight hours, and avoid the prostitution and drug-dealing hubs. Personally, I would have no qualms about flying to any of Mexico’s popular diving venues, all far from the troubled border towns.

Papua New Guinea: The biggest concern is the high crime rate, and many visitors have suffered severe injuries from carjackings and armed robberies, especially in Port Moresby. People traveling alone are at greater risk for robbery or rape. State recommends organized tours booked through travel agencies as the safest way to visit PNG. I’d be on guard in Port Moresby, but would be pleased to dive anywhere in PNG. However, our PNG reviewer in the February issue witnessed a shooting and stayed at a resort where armed robbers had just appeared.

Philippines: State warns travelers about the risks in the southern islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago due to bombings by regional terrorist groups. But all the dive operations I want to visit are far from trouble spots, so the Philippines is high on my wish list.

The Red Sea: State recommends against travel to the Egypt/Sudan border, although the dive resorts and boats are far up the Egyptian coast in areas not highlighted as security risks. While there were recent terrorist attacks in tourist regions, Americans weren’t targeted, and the crime rate is low. Europeans are enjoying all the wonders of the Red Sea and Americans are foolishly missing out.

Thailand: Recent government instability means you should avoid crowds and public demonstrations, particularly in Bangkok. There have been cases of single women tourists being robbed and even murdered at night in beach communities. Political and criminal violence are of concern in the far south of Thailand and along its borders with Cambodia and Burma. Regardless, I wouldn’t dodge the island of Phuket nor Thailand’s liveaboards.

For any overseas dive trip, the State Department recommends you register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the area through its Travel Registration web site (https://travelregistration.state.gov). You’ll receive the most recent security/safety updates about the country before and during your trip. Registering also means you can be reached if an emergency happens abroad or back at home.

- - Ben Davison

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