Tourists robbed on riverboat in canals of Tortuguero

December 10, 2013

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 10, 11:13 p.m.:

Monday morning, three armed assailants wearing black ski masks took over a tourist riverboat headed for La Pavona in Tortugero on the northern Caribbean coast. The pirates robbed all 14 people on board, including 12 foreign tourists and two Costa Rican crew members.

The thieves stole cash, cellphones, watches, cameras, and at least one tablet from the tourists visiting Costa Rica from the United States, Spain and Switzerland. Exact values for the stolen goods and cash have yet to be totaled.

The thieves intercepted the vessel as it slowed to pass through a shallow curve in one of the area’s famous canals.

Rebeca Gómez, manager of Laguna Lodge, which operated the tour, told The Tico Times that the gunmen ordered the boat to stop and the captain beached the vessel on a sandbar. When the assailants ordered the visitors to hand over their valuables, the tour guide told the guests to cooperate. No one was injured.

“We’re still in shock,” Gómez said over the phone.

Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Guápiles Regional Delegation Director Josué Bravo said that the river conditions made escape unlikely for the boat. The regional director added that the robbers were likely locals. After the robbery, they fled into a part of the marshes that is difficult to access, he said. 

The remote town of Tortuguero sits near the eponymous national park, famous for its sea turtles and other wildlife. The area’s isolation is part of its charm but also a hindrance to Tortuguero’s meager police force.

Gómez said she and several other hoteliers in Tortuguero were angry at the lack of resources allocated to the police force there, as crime has risen in recent years.

“The handful of police here lack a lot of basic necessities,” Gómez said, painting a picture of community left without the resources to police its famous beaches and verdant natural canals. In some instances, she said, officers aren’t able to feed themselves on their shifts, and local hotels end up providing them with meals. 

“Tourists can’t go down to visit the beaches and see the turtles hatch,” Gómez told The Tico Times, “Someone brings them down there and when someone takes out a camera, they’re robbed!”

Several Tortugero residents and business owners contacted The Tico Times Monday and Tuesday expressing concern that crime was destroying their community. 

Gómez said that several tourist-based businesses and community members planned to organize a meeting early next week to pen a letter demanding more police support and resources. “We’re really concerned about the safety of our clients. It’s the most important thing,” she concluded.

The story is developing. Follow updates at ticotimes.net.

Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that there were only seven people on board the boat when the robbery took place, which was based on information provided by OIJ Guápiles Regional Delegation Director Josué Bravo. The number of victims was 14 total, according to Rebeca Gómez, who filed the formal complaint with law enforcement Tuesday afternoon after The Tico Times spoke with Bravo.

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