In the spring of 2014, a young man came to Antibes to start his career in the yachting industry.
He went out one evening after landing his first job, and was allegedly approached by a group of people who demanded his phone. When he refused, they stabbed his hand and took the phone.
He had to have micro-surgery and part of his hand amputated, and his yachting career ended as quickly as it began.
During the last month in the Antibes-Cannes area there have been reports of several attempted kidnappings, one beating and one rape. All of the alleged attacks were on young women, mostly from the yachting community, and several occurred in daylight hours.
As stories of muggings and violence circulate, it begins to feel as if crime, particularly targeted towards crew, must be on the rise in and around Antibes. From those who we interviewed for this article, the overwhelming verdict is that the situation does seem particularly bad this year.
Is Crime Getting Worse in Antibes?
To assess the truth of this, it has to be at least considered that that yachting community facebook groups are circulating information that we wouldn’t have been aware of before. Social media spreads stories that would have otherwise remained quite localised.
One thing is certain: the problem of crime on the Riviera is not new. Long time residents say the situation is a vast improvement on the 90’s, while those who were around Antibes in 2006-2008 will all remember the spate of vicious bashings and pepper spray muggings by gangs.
So is it worse again in 2014? Well, we don’t know for sure. Most of the stories we hear are anecdotal, and many of the incidents are not officially reported.
Why don’t crew report crime?
Part of the non-reporting comes down to the transient nature of the town, and the crew of boats leaving port without reporting the crime. An iPhone can be replaced, and when crew only have one day between charters, they’re unlikely to waste it at the police station. For the more violent crimes, feelings of shock and fear also deter reporting.
Yet that is only part of the issue here. Time and time again we hear discouraging stories of local police showing disinterest in a victim’s plight, or directing them to different police stations with no offer of assistance, despite the person’s obvious emotional distress.
Of course there are also stories of police being tremendously helpful, as in the case of those who helped the woman who was beaten and thrown from a car near Carrefour this month. It seems a shame though that the treatment is down to ‘luck of the draw’, and that we can’t be sure what reception our experience of crime will get at the local police station.
So there are many reasons why victims don’t report crime. Yet when crime isn’t reported, either by the victims or the local press, then there can be no leverage to force the town into providing a stronger police presence. Without statistics, we don’t have a leg to stand on.
It is also necessary to point out that crime exists everywhere and that Antibes is not exactly downtown Kabul. The yacht and tourist dollar will always attract criminals, and it is unrealistic to think otherwise.
Yet all of those interviewed for this piece mentioned the unavoidable truth: it is rare to see police patrols in Antibes at night. Most felt that a stronger police presence would go a long way towards a feeling of safety, while some also suggested greater CCTV coverage around the town.
One thing does seem sure. Yacht crew and residents of Antibes are not feeling particularly safe, regardless of whether it is statistically more dangerous than other years.
Ending the Blame Game
This argument about crime towards crew in Antibes is already causing heated discussion, with a concerning tendency arising in forums to put the blame on the drunkenness of yacht crew, or dismissing the problem with a blithe ‘girls won’t get in trouble if they don’t walk alone at night.’
Leaving aside that some of the attacks have happened in broad daylight, blaming the victim is a very unhelpful strategy.
Even if we were to accept that all attacks on women happen at night, then we have to be concerned that the ‘solution’ offered is for women to stay indoors when it’s dark outside, or wait for a big strong man to walk her home. As I said, this is Antibes. Not downtown Kabul.
In looking for solutions, we also have to take into account that men have also been mugged and beaten. Local crime is not only directed at women, and any ‘solution’ that puts the onus on women simply taking themselves out of public social situations is not appropriate, as a solution or to this century.
Or, another frequently offered ‘solution’: that crew should not drink too much? That’s just a bit unlikely, don’t you think?
No matter what ‘blame the victim’ strategy you look at, it doesn’t cover all eventualities, and certainly doesn’t remove the problem.
What can be done?
Having said all that, it is fair to suggest that yacht crew can and should do the following things. Just as when pulling into Caribbean ports, captains should address the crew and warn them of possible crime spots on the Riviera and strategies to avoid trouble.
The more sober crewmembers need to look out for others.
Everyone should have several local taxi numbers in their phone and wallet.
Walking back to the port in groups is recommended.
Remember that men are being attacked too.
If you are being harassed, don’t argue back.
- Consider having a duplicate or 'dummy' wallet to hand over in case of mugging.
Either leave your phone in your pocket or be talking on it so that you can alert someone.
Avoid Boulevard President Wilson, the Gare SNCF area, Place Nationale and Place de Gaulle at night. The carpark outside ‘L’Equinox can also be a problem spot in the early hours. It is also said that one group operates a lookout from the top of the ramparts by the Hop Store to spot targets walking down the nearby alleyways.
It must also be said that crew who buy drugs off the local dealers are putting themselves at much greater risk of robbery and violence. Numerous crew have been attacked and robbed following a drug purchase in Antibes. Leaving aside the wisdom or legality of drugs, by buying from or befriending the local dealers, crew members are making themselves targets, vulnerable to the same people who could rob them later.
Remember, during a drug deal, you are giving drug dealers the following advantages: They know your face, they know you have money, and they know you will be drug-affected later that night. Give the local drug dealers as little reason to notice you as possible, and even less information about yourself.
In an excellent article ‘Crew Safety Ashore: Sobering Thoughts’ which we thoroughly recommend all crew read, Shawn Englebrecht explains that the best tool by far is awareness. He points out that:
‘ALL pre-planned attacks require at least a rudimentary surveillance of the potential victim. …However, for him to be in a prime position to conduct surveillance on you, the reverse is also true. It means that you can see him. By clearly identifying him you are discretely transmitting that 'we know who you are and can easily identify you again. In one short second, the potential assailant has lost the most powerful weapon in his arsenal; the element of surprise. To him, you now represent a hard target; far better for him to slither away in search of easier prey.’
It has been suggested by some that crew arm themselves with tasers and pepper spray, or learn self-defence. Self-arming and self defence is a complicated topic, not least because of the legality of carrying such weapons in different countries. Weapons and fighting back can escalate a simple theft attempt into a highly violent incident, especially when the victim is not well-trained. (Or not sober.)
However, it cannot be disputed that having some means of self defence lends a person a certain sense of confidence, one which makes them statistically less likely to be seen a soft target and attacked in the first place.
It’s a complicated issue, but any decision to carry a crime deterrent or learn self-defence must be taken by the individual, with a clear sense of the pros, cons and legality of doing so.
So between being aware of your surroundings, avoiding trouble spots, keeping an eye on each other and reporting incidents when they happen, then crew are doing all they can to stay safe.
What would be the best outcome, however, is that in addition to all these steps to protect ourselves, that the town of Antibes provides adequate police presence, greater CCTV coverage, and a kind and helpful manner when incidents are reported.
Have your say in the comments section below.
For more information on risk avoidance and crew safety ashore, please read Crew Safety Ashore: Time to Act
OnboardOnline wishes to thank Kitty Cavendish for approaching us with the idea, passion and research for this article. Also, thanks to those who took the time to comment and get involved with this issue.