Cruiser Murdered in San Blas

On May 2, New Zealand cruiser Alan Culverwell was killed by robbers aboard his anchored boat at Morodub Island in Panama’s San Blas archipelago. According to reports, Culverwell and his family were asleep aboard their 60-ft trawler Aqua Lobo around 2 a.m. when they heard footsteps on the deck. When Alan, 60, went topside to investigate, he was shot. The robbers also attempted to assault his wife, Derryn, who sustained a machete wound fighting them off. Their 11-year-old daughter, Briar, also sustained unspecified injuries (none of their injuries were life-threatening). Derryn was finally able to lock herself below where she, Briar, and Briar’s twin brother, Flynn, huddled for the next two hours, making calls to local authorities, as well as friends back home.

According to news sources in Panama, the men stole the boat’s dinghy and 15-hp outboard.

Alan and Derryn sold their house and left New Zealand just before Christmas 2016. They headed to Florida, where they acquired Aqua Lobo. They were making the trip home into a cruising adventure, making many stops in the Caribbean over the past two years.

The San Blas archipelago has been a cruiser haven for years.
© 2019 Wikipedia

Panamanian authorities apprehended three suspects. Leandro Herrera and Avelino Arosemena are accused of killing Culverwell. The third suspect, an unnamed minor, also appeared in court in connection with the case, but it’s unclear if he was involved in the murder.

For what it’s worth, the San Blas Islands — including Morodub (“Turtle Island” to most yachties) — have long been considered safe for tourists, be they cruisers or more land-based travelers. In fact, if memory serves, Turtle Island also goes by the nickname “BBQ Island” for the cruiser get-togethers on the beach every Monday evening. There is even a small Airbnb on the island run by the local Kuna family who live there.

We’re hoping this tragic incident was an anomaly. Based on what we know now, we would not recommend cruisers change their plans or avoid this lovely, friendly and picturesque area. We will keep on top of this story and bring you significant updates if they are warranted. Until then, our sincere condolences go out to the Culverwell family.

9 Comments

  1. Rochelle Hamblin 4 months ago

    Friendly? U kidding?

  2. Rory J Kremer 4 months ago

    John is there any word on needs of Mrs. Culverwell and their children? If so, please do let the sailing community know how we can help.
    Thanks,

  3. David Hume 4 months ago

    It’s at times like this you need a gun on your boat…..except you are not allowed to have one. I think a boat owner should be allowed to defend himself in such a situation. Attacks like this happen often, desperate people in desperate places. Time for a serious change of the rules. I do not own a gun but there have been two occasions in the Caribbean when I wished I had one. On a boat you are very vulnerable and the attackers know that you are likely unarmed.

    • Docduracoat 3 months ago

      You are 100% allowed to have guns on your boat.
      I sailed to the San Blas Islands and was armed with both a rifle and a pistol.
      I was glad to have them aboard.
      Only used them for target practice for fun

    • Joe Abbott 2 months ago

      FYI,

      Per Noonsite’s Panama Custom’s section (https://www.noonsite.com/place/panama/formalities/):
      𝗙𝗶𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗺𝘀 𝗺𝘂𝘀𝘁 𝗯𝗲 𝗱𝗲𝗰𝗹𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗼𝗻 𝗮𝗿𝗿𝗶𝘃𝗮𝗹 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗯𝗲 𝗵𝗲𝗹𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝗯𝗼𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗹 𝗱𝗲𝗽𝗮𝗿𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲.

      Per the Guna Yala Congress’ Rules Regulating Touristic Activities In Guna Yala (http://www.gunayala.org.pa/Reglamento%20de%20Turismo.htm):
      ARTICLE 36: Owners of recreational craft, yachts, sailboats and their crew will abide by these regulations, they will be required to:
      d. 𝗗𝗼 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗿𝘆 𝗳𝗶𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗺𝘀, hunting, or consumption and / or trafficking of drugs or illicit substances.

  4. Joe Abbott 4 months ago

    The Caribbean Safety and Security Net reports the anchorage location as near Mono Island, San Blas, Panama. [https://safetyandsecuritynet.org/date-2019-05-02-0130-country-name-panama-location-detail-san-blas-island-mono-event-assault-resulting-in-death/ ]

    Noonsite states the anchorage location as:. La Isla Surdub (Isla Mono) near de Dad Naggwe Dubbirin (San Ignacio De Tupile), in a remote part of Guna Yala, Panama. [https://www.noonsite.com/news/panama-guna-yala-isla-surdub-isla-mono-new-zealand-cruising-family-attacked-and-father-fatally-injured/ ]

  5. Joe Abbott 4 months ago

    Might want to include: They had forecasted a May departure from Panama bound to French Polynesia as part of the 2019 Pacific Puddle Jump fleet (http://www.pacificpuddlejump.com/fleet.html).

  6. Steve Garrity 4 months ago

    Very suprised by this attack. I’ve spent years on both sides of the isthmus, including San Blas and Los Perlas, and the only violence I ever encountered was in downtown Colon (mugged at knifepoint). Not sure if the perpetrators were local, but I know there’s a lot of traffic between Colombia and Panama through the San Blas. Perhaps a 60 foot rawler just seemed too fat a target to pass up; the rich gringo scenario. I’m not for carrying firearms per se, but there are other potential defenses, perhaps the best being passive, locking yourself in and letting the intruders steal whatever they want topside. In extremis, bear spray, flare guns (there even used to be an insert that turned a flare gun into a .38 single shot pistol), or spearfishing gear might help defend the cabin.

  7. SV Indra 2 months ago

    Prior to travel to the Guna Yala region or elsewhere one should review the General Security Precautions for Cruisers identified on the CSSN website: https://safetyandsecuritynet.org/security-precautions-for-cruisers/

    Also as an emergency backup phone number if needed, consider the IMB PRC 24-hour Anti Piracy HELPLINE telephone number: + 60 3 2031 0014. https://www.icc-ccs.org/index.php/piracy-reporting-centre/report-an-incident

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