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Piracy or Thuggery?

The Central American cruising community was shaken this week at the news that longtime cruiser Cliff Vaughs was robbed by a group of thugs off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Not only did they take everything he had, but they took his sailboat, Amistad (which ironically means friendship), and left him to swim ashore.

According to reports in the cruisers’ forum Cruisers_Net_Online, Vaugh, an African American around 60 years old, was shaken up by the attack but otherwise unharmed after swimming ashore and walking for hours to the nearest village.

The incident is widely being reported as piracy. And while this isolated act certainly seems to fit the classic definition, we’re a bit uneasy with that term being thrown around so casually. Especially since just this week a reader asked us about piracy in the Eastern Caribbean, referring to the nefarious acts of petty thieves and drug-runners. To this writer, the deadly acts of Somali raiders are definitely piracy, but I’m reluctant to characterize every on-the-water crime with that term, as it tends to blow isolated incidents out of proportion and brand cruising destinations where they occur with reputations that could take decades to live down.

That said, as several Western Caribbean cruisers have pointed out, Honduras and Nicaragua have extremely high crime rates, and cruisers should be especially wary in those waters. But painting the Eastern Caribbean with the same brush seems inaccurate and unfair. What do you think? If you have thoughts about this semantical debate, send them our way.

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