St. Vincent & the Grenadines: Tobago Cays – Armed Robbery
July 2, 2011, at 10:30 pm
A cruising couple were robbed of cash at gun and knifepoint by 2 masked men, who drifted down onto the bow of their yacht in a colourful “local” boat. It was a dark, moonless night with only five boats anchored in the Tobago Cays. The couple suffered minor cuts and bruises from resisting, but it was all over in five minutes.
Police at Union Island were notified – but there were no arrests.
Published 12 years ago, updated 4 years ago
Victims Allen and Kate Barry of S/Y Mendocino Queen sent Noonsite a full, detailed report about this incident, including some useful tactics they used to deter the attackers and other details. See below.
RE: BOARDING, ASSAULT, AND ROBBERY OF OUR VESSEL AT TOBAGO CAYS, ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES, JULY 2, 2011 AT 10:30 PM.
Our Movements Leading up to the Boarding
We first arrived in the Tobago Cays on June 27, 2011, and anchored between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau in the early afternoon. We swam, snorkelled and passed an enjoyable afternoon, evening and night there. We were approached by park rangers and paid them 20EC$ (10 per person).
The next morning we re-anchored south of Baradel Island to be closer to Horseshoe Reef and several friends who were anchored there. For several days we explored the great reef system here and enjoyed the companionship of six other yachts we had met in other anchorages. There were about twenty yachts at anchor on that day.
On June 30 we sailed to Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau Island (only an hour away) for better protection in deteriorating weather. We stayed until July 2nd: hiking the beautiful island, watching the Wimbledon Tennis Semi-Finals on a TV in the village, swimming and socializing with friends. During this time there was lots of VHF traffic among the boats and it was no secret where boats were heading and when they were going.
The Day of the Boarding
On July 2nd at 10 AM we left Salt Whistle Bay and by 1045 were anchored South of Baradel Island and as close to the reefs as depth allowed. Nine feet deep, all sand, no grass beds and stingrays darting about the bottom. The weather reports called for some squally conditions but of moderate intensity. The anchorage is secure and fairly comfortable in such conditions and we preferred to be in the Cays and in the water rather than be at the Island. The day was beautiful and calm. We took the dinghy out the dinghy pass and snorkelled the outside edge of Horseshoe reef where we found Sharks cruising about, turtles and rays in good numbers and lots and lots of reef fish. The soft coral was beautiful and the hard coral is struggling to recover from hurricane damage and is doing pretty well.
Due to the weather forecast, some yachts didn’t leave Salt Whistle Bay for the Cays and others already at the Cays left for the more protected island anchorages. There remained only 4 yachts visible to us in this very large anchorage.
The Boarding and Assault
Evening came and went. Night came on very dark with no moon and the wind and chop had increased as a tropical wave was passing through. It was not a quiet night: there was the wind, the surf breaking on the reef, the chop lapping at the hull, the ground tackle groaning now and again, and various other boat sounds.
About 10 PM Allen was below deck reading and thought he heard a slow running outboard motor. He grabbed the big 4 cell flashlight, went on deck and shined it about. He caught a glimpse of a small boat motoring away. The sound faded and he saw nothing further but kept looking around. Shortly thereafter, maybe only 10 mins, there was a sound at the bow and Allen, who was again below, came on deck and saw two men wearing masks board the boat. One raced down the deck toward Allen, carrying something in his hand.
Allen went back below and grabbed the first heavy object he found which was the 4 D cell flashlight, it’s about 14 inches long. He also yelled for Kate who had just gone to bed. Allen started back up the companion stairs, which was now blocked by one of the borders. Allen repeatedly struck the man, using the flashlight and kept screaming, “Get off my boat, you motherfucker”. Allen kept yelling at the top of his lungs and hitting the border over and over. The border was trying to force his way below by kicking or stomping Allen in the chest arms and face. The struggle allowed Kate enough time to get to the VHF radio and put out a distress call, which was picked up by a few yachts. The man Allen was fighting with was screaming also. He was screaming, “I’m going to kill you motherfucker”, over and over. We were making a lot of noise and the vessel anchored closest to us heard both the commotion and the VHF call. The man attacking Allen got hold of the flashlight about the same time Kate finished the VHF call. Kate then attacked him with her fists and he clubbed her over the head with the flashlight. The blow split the skin on Kates scalp and blood flowed from her head over her neck shoulders and back. The second assailant was now pointing a gun at Kate’s head and the first assailant had a knife to Allen’s throat. Allen had been knocked into the Nav Station during the struggle.
The VHF came alive and very loud. Still on VHF 16 the occupant of the boat that could hear the struggle began broadcasting loudly: “ A vessel is being boarded and attacked in the Tobago Cays” She kept repeating the message over and over, loud and agitated. It had the effect of unnerving the assailants, as their act was being witnessed and reported, even though no rescue could possibly arrive for hours. But it made them very nervous and anxious to leave.
The main assailant with a knife to Allen’s throat kept screaming, “Where do you hide your money motherfucker” “You can die tonight motherfucker”. Over and over..
Allen leads him to the Vberth, opened a cabinet and pulled out a zippered leather satchel that had a $ sign on it. Allen opened it and pulled out three envelopes: One was labelled US$, one EC$, and one EURO…”Where is the rest of your money motherfucker” as he pushes the knife a little harder? “That’s all that’s all,” I tell him. Then I say, “No, there is a little more on the Nav Station.” We go there and he snatches the change purse I pointed out to him. They are anxious to leave. The VHF is still broadcasting the event.
The assailants leave Kate, sitting and bleeding on the galley sole and take Allen on deck with the knife still pressed into his neck and still threatening and screaming about dieing and killing. Allen thought that they would knife him on the deck or at least throw him in the water – and was trying to make a plan.
What they did was board their boat and get away fast. Allen saw the boat but it looked like all the other pastel painted small runabouts that are built and used here and it was dark and Allen was a little beat up.
They were gone. We could see the direction they headed but sure don’t know where they went.
After the Attack
We now had VHF contact with several other yachts, including friends anchored at Clifton Harbor, Union Island.
We don’t have a cell phone.
Our friends at Union Is did have cell phones and called the authorities and some local contacts in the tourism business. The police, once involved, asked that we come to Union Is to file a report. It was about midnight and the idea of us raising anchor and negotiating the unlit and unmarked reefs that make this place so beautiful is absurd. For us, this is a “daytime only” navigation area. Our friends kept insisting to the police that they must go to the scene to be sure everyone is ok. Make a report. Do a Patrol. Reassure the other boats. Our friends stressed that this is a serious crime..A VIOLENT ASSAULT WITH WEAPONS AND PEOPLE ARE INJURED….This is not a petty theft
So the police did come.
At about 130AM a Park Service Boat with no lights but flashlights approached us. There were six onboard. I think four were police and two were Park Service. One of the Police, Owen, seemed to be the man in charge. A report of sorts was made on wet folded scraps of paper. They took our names, boat name, how much was stolen and whatever information we could provide about the assailants, which was very little. We were impressed that at that hour of the night, the authorities managed to assemble a boat and six officers and travel in poor weather to respond to this incident. The Officers were kind and concerned people and would do whatever they could for us, but there was really nothing to do. They visited one other boat in the anchorage, the one closest to us who heard the commotion and made the VHF broadcasts.
Then they were gone too. We locked up the boat when we went to bed. Haven’t done that in years.
In the morning, July 3rd, we went to Clifton Harbor at Union Island. Our friends saw us entering the harbour and motioned us over. They had picked out a perfect spot for our anchor amidst their boats, so we dropped there and set. Our friends checked the anchor. We were among good friends and were well cared for. One boat brought us homemade soup and Oreo Cookies. Another brought something stronger. There were offers of money if we needed any, or anything else. That evening, the crew of 5 yachts gathered for the evening. The crews noted the various things they do (or should do, or should have done or will do) to respond as effectively as possible so such a situation.
On July 4th these five yachts went to the airport to secure outbound clearance. We were to pay EC$63 for the clearance which included $EC13 for “overtime”. Allen told the two customs men of our ordeal in the Cays, including the violence done to Kate and him. Allen explained that his money had been stolen and he asked for the fees to be waived. The men were clearly sympathetic and distressed by the event. The one in charge of collecting fees said he does not have the authority to waive fees. This began a long and sometimes heated discussion between the crews of the five yachts and the two officials and spanned topics from security for visitors to charging overtime during scheduled working hours and many other topics. We wish that was videotaped.
The official in charge of collecting the money remained adamant that he did not have the authority to waive fees and that there was nobody he could call who could authorize that. He was asked repeatedly to call his superiors. Finally, the other officer rose to his feet, pulled out his own money and paid our fees. We spoke more with him afterwards and exchanged email addresses. He is a religious man and gave us a copy of his church bulletin. We admired him for the stand he took.
These five yachts sailed from Clifton Harbor that afternoon and regrouped in Carriacou for a Fourth of July Party.
That’s what happened.
- The single most important event in driving the assailants from the boat was the loud and repeated broadcast they were hearing on the VHF.
- Of the four other yachts in the anchorage, apparently only one was monitoring VHF 16.
- Only the closest yacht heard any commotion.
- A large professionally skippered yacht directly downwind of us, saw and heard nothing.
- Although news of the event was widely reported on the nets (including French), on some facebook pages, and through numerous VHF “PAN” broadcasts from ourselves and others, there are many who never heard.
- Knowing that news travels fast and often gets quite distorted, we emailed family and friends asap to let them know we’re ok.
THE OTHER YACHTS
Out of respect for their privacy, we are leaving unnamed all those who helped us during and after the event. They are welcome to add to this account. Particularly the yacht that initiated all the cell phone calls during the night and kept VHF contact with us. He would be better able to detail all the contacts he made that resulted in the police coming to our yacht at 1:30 AM. The support and concern we received from this small community could not have been more genuine or more generous.
We have heard nothing from the police since they took the report at the scene.
We contacted the Dept of Tourism and received a swift and personal reply. We have since exchanged several emails with the Chairwoman of Tourism. She has expressed outrage at the event, offered kind and supportive words, and has asked if there is anything she can do for us. She gave us her phone number. She is, of course, aware of the impact and knows that news of such an event travels very fast…much faster than good news. We are also just now writing to the Police Commissioner so have no response yet.
WHAT WE SHOULD HAVE DONE AT THAT TIME
Although unlit local boats, fishing or transiting at night is not uncommon, this one seemed out of place. At the moment Allen first realized there was a boat in the area he should have done the following:
- Called Kate to make a VHF call to all vessels. Alerting them of possible danger or incident. Ask them to turn spotlights on our boat and scan the area.
- Stayed on deck with high power lights and continue to search the area and shine the light on other yachts to get their attention.
- Turn on the electric horn and let it blast.
- Sound the air horn repeatedly to get the attention of other yachts.
- To discourage a potential boarding, we think an abundance of light and noise is a good start.
WHAT WE COULD HAVE OR SHOULD HAVE DONE AHEAD OF TIME:
- Install a panic button that turns on lights and sound devices and can be activated from more that one location.
- Have on hand some of the debilitating sprays including some that shoot a long way. Hornet spray has been suggested.
- Install alarms as appropriate to the boat: motion detectors etc..
This is a huge topic that has been hashed out in many forums and the discussions will continue.
THE GUN OPTION
We have no moral objection to this option. It is fraught with practical considerations, however. If you declare your weapon, it will generally be confiscated upon entry and returned (maybe) upon your departure. So it’s useless to you. Failing to declare it is a serious offence (like a felony) with various but severe consequences. Even if you shoot someone legitimately, you have already committed a serious crime by not declaring. Also, whomever you have shot has lots of relatives, maybe in the government.
GOVERNMENTS DO NOT WANT FOREIGNERS TO BRING WEAPONS INTO THEIR COUNTRY, AS A CERTAIN NUMBER OF THOSE WEAPONS WILL END UP IN THE HANDS OF LOCAL CRIMINALS.
When all is said and done, at the end of an altercation, we would rather be alive.
This is an endlessly discussed topic and we’ll leave it here.
OUR RESPONSE AND EMOTIONAL WELL BEING
During the event, we seemed to operate on automatic. We don’t recall fear. There was no time for it. It was all action and very fast at that. We fought until there was no more point in it. Then more or less went along with what the assailants wanted… which was …..Money. When they left and we were ok, we did practical things like wash up blood and inspect wounds. We were on the radio a lot of the time. The one neighbour who heard the attack offered to come over but we declined, as it was a poor night to launch a dinghy and travel. We appreciated the offer.
We don’t wake up at night with the memory of this. We are not suspicious of every local boat we see. And we want to continue onward. We always knew this could happen. It could have been much worse. We could have been hurt or killed. We could have been emotionally traumatized. We could have been, but we were not.
If this happened early in our cruising experience it may have been more unsettling.
We have been living aboard and cruising for about 20 years. We’ve spent a few thousand nights at anchor, some active and bustling like Hong Kong and other remote and quiet like New Caledonia’s remote reefs. We know there are risks with this lifestyle and we willingly take them, on the boat and off. We’ve meandered through some 35 countries: clearing in and clearing out, learning the customs, a little of the language, figuring out the bus systems and the currencies. It is our life and we like it.
The people of this planet are extraordinarily kind and generous and they invite us into their lives and share their meals and their world. From a little Masai Village in the Serengeti to an Engineers Elegant home in Borneo we have been welcomed. This is the life we choose.
We have always liked the following prose:
“I see before me fathomless depths
And far-flung distances; vastness beyond vast
I see names of places, transcendental spaces, strange faces
I see routes across the earth
Well-tracked routes of famous people
They say “Come, I have been here, the way is not safe,
But death stalks surely where you now reside
And boredom, deaths brother.”
ALLEN AND KATE BARRY
S/V MENDOCINO QUEEN
July 14, 2011
On Monday, July 26, 2011
Ulrick Hanson, a 20 years old Labourer and Jordon Forde, a 17 years old Labourer, both of Mayreau, were arrested and charged for Assault Bodily Harm, Aggravated Burglary, Burglary and Robbery.
They were taken before the Serious Offences Court on July 26, 2011, where they pleaded “not guilty” to the offences and were remanded in custody. They are scheduled to reappear at the Serious Offences Court on August 05, 2011.
Comment from Giselle Vaugne, of the charter yacht “Ouatalibi”, who were anchored close to SV Mendocino Queen on the night of the attack and assisted with calling for help.
I am responding to the above mentioned detailed report. My name is Giselle and I was the person who made the VHF calls for help.
At around 10 pm (on the night of the attack) my father heard noises from an outboard motor quite close. He took the torch and flashed in the direction of the noises and called me from my berth. My father informed me that he had a glimpse of a boat quite close to ours with a white hull. I heard voices when I was down in the berth, therefore I am quite sure they circled around our boat.
I took another torch so we were both flashing around the boat, but could not see anything anymore. It sounded like the “engine” noises of the boat were heading in the direction of the island “Baradal” (opposite direction of Mendocino Queen), so we flashed in that direction when we suddenly heard loud screaming and shouting. We turned in the direction of Mendocino Queen and saw different lights “stumbling”.
We then heard a woman screaming over the VHF (Ch.16) (now obviously it was the distress call from Kate). I went down below, followed by my father and started several VHF calls (as I am not that familiar with VHF, I just started by more or less screaming SOS and repeating what we saw and heard) and asked for help. Somebody heard the call and started answering. I specifically asked for the Mayreau police or the Mayreau Park Rangers nearby. I do not know who answered my VHF calls, it seemed to be another yacht who had a cell phone.
The police came at 1 o’clock and asked us what we had seen. My father and I made night watch for the last 6 hours of the night and I couldn’t sleep for the following 3 nights either.
We had the feeling that we would have been the first target and the thing that made them go away is that my father flashed them right away when they were close to our boat.
Our thoughts about this:
– We do not want to be suspicious, but we think the assailants knew about the number of people aboard each vessel! We can imagine that somebody was there during the day for observation, as there circulated several boats.
– Why did they not break into the boat next to Baradel? On Ouatalibi: 2 women and one man, already older. On the Mendocino queen: a couple. There were 3 more boats in the Tobago Cays, 2 of them with a lot more people on board.
– For next time we will be prepared and have the light signals ready.
We were and are still really shocked by this assault and wanted to express our sympathy for Mendocino Queen. They were extremely courageous and brave. We wish Mendocino Queen no further incidents and another wonderful 20 years of living aboard and cruising around the world.
Related to the following Cruising Resources: Caribbean, Piracy & Security, Self-defence and Deterring Attacks