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June 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Brutal Murder of Stuart Cove’s Dock Manager

Bahamas’ crime rate is far higher than NYC or Chicago

from the June, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The 48th murder in the Bahamas so far this year happened on May 1. At 10:00 that night, four men broke into the marina on western New Providence Island, where Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas boats are moored. Two men tied up the security guard, while another two went down the dock and boarded the sloop Lucky Break, home to Gary Vanhoeck, Stuart Cove's operations manager, and his wife Kathryn.

Vanhoeck, 51, was relaxing aboard and Kathryn, 43, was asleep in the cabin when the men boarded. They demanded that Vanhoeck give them money and ordered him onto the dock, where they shot him twice. Woken by the gunshots, Kathryn scrambled to the deck, where one of the gunmen confronted her. In shock, she ran past him to a friend's house down the road. Only when they returned with police did Kathryn learn that her husband was dead.

Vanhoeck, originally from Grimsby, England, quit his job in the U.K. to pursue his dream of becoming a dive instructor. He and Kathryn set off from Britain five years ago in the Lucky Break to pursue that dream. One day, they sailed into the dock where Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas is based, and Gary landed the job of dock manager, says Undercurrent contributor John Bantin, who knew the Vanhoecks from his frequent Bahamas dive trips. "The two Brits, both hard-working ordinary folk, fit in well, with that British "cool" for coping with inevitable dive-center operating problems without turning them into a crisis." Bantin wrote a tribute to Vanhoeck, which we posted as our latest blog post -- read the rest of it at www.undercurrent.org/blog

Bahamas police launched an island-wide manhunt for four suspects, but no one has been arrested yet. Nassau police spokesman Stephen Dean told the Daily Mail, "The men wanted money, and it's not clear if he [Vanhoeck] resisted or if there was a struggle. He was shot dead and they ran off." Dean said that a killing like this was "rare" and "not an everyday occurrence."

It may not be an everyday occurrence, but serious crime in the Bahamas happens far too frequently. The murder rate in the Bahamas in 2013 was 34.1 murders for every 100,000 people. Compare that to four murders for every 100,000 people in New York City and 15.2 for Chicago. The Bahamas's population is 377,000, one-seventh the size of Chicago's, but its murder rate is more than double that of the Windy City. The Bahamas police stopped releasing crime statistics last year.

According to the Bahamas newspaper Tribune 242, Vanhoeck's murder was the 48th homicide in the Bahamas this year. Brutal home invasions are a regular occurrence. In April, Geoffrey Harding, a retired doctor from British Columbia, was stabbed to death during a home-invasion robbery in Clarence Town, Long Island. The police arrested a 43-year-old Bahamian a few days later, but refused to disclose that Harding was Canadian, in its police report. The newspapers also downplayed the murder, with the Tribune describing Harding merely as a "Caucasian man," and the Nassau Guardian not reporting it all. Those are all moves that the Bahamas Tourism Bureau loves.

In the last 15 months, the U.S. has issued six critical crime warnings for the Bahamas, most recently in February, warning tourists of armed robbery, kidnapping, and sexual assault. Maritime lawyer Jim Walker, who writes the blog Cruise Law News, listed Nassau as the world's most dangerous cruise destination. Hard to believe that the lovely Bahamas, so close to the U.S. mainland, is near the top of the global list for crime advisories. That makes it sound more like Papua New Guinea, with its capital of Port Moresby infamous for brutal crimes (read our March 2009 travel feature about Papua New Guinea and you'll see that it starts off with our writer ducking for cover from gunshots ringing out in the airport's domestic terminal). Besides the Bahamas, other Caribbean destinations where crime is a concern include the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Honduras mainland. Robert Curley, the Caribbean travel writer for About. com, says that statistics show the safest Caribbean dive destinations are the Caymans, the British Virgin Islands and Bonaire.

While travelers need be cautious, one should not be timid and fail to explore interesting attractions in the daytime. Even in the most troubled places, violent crime rarely touches tourists. Thugs are usually targeting dangling purses, Rolex watches, and expensive cameras. Exercise normal caution and enjoy your trip.

- - Vanessa Richardson

(A note from Ben: Well, sometimes thugs are looking for other things. Years ago, after a liveaboard trip in Papua New Guinea waters, I stayed at Ambua Lodge in the highlands. A guest went for a

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