Politics: US issues travel alert in Mexico after explosives were found on a ferry in a tourist hotspot

Politics: US issues travel alert in Mexico after explosives were found on a ferry in a tourist hotspot
  • The US has issued a travel notice for Playa del Carmen after an explosion on a tourist ferry there late last month.
  • The alert comes the same day as more explosives were found on another ferry in the area.
  • The perpetrator remains unknown.

A little more than a week after an explosion on a ferry in Playa del Carmen injured more than 20 people, some of them US citizens, the US embassy in Mexico issued a travel alert for the popular tourist destination in southeast Mexico.

The alert was issued the same day as what appeared to be explosive devices were found on another ferry owned by the same company in Cozumel, another tourist hub in the area.

US government employees are prohibited from using any tourist ferries in the area, according to the alert, which advised US travelers to exercise caution, purchase travel and medical-evacuation insurance, and contact the nearest embassy or consulate for assistance.

The February 21 blast took place on Barco Caribe 1, a ferry owned by the company Barcos Caribe, while it was docked in Playa del Carmen. The ferry, which traveled between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, had a 400-person capacity but was only carrying 104 people at the time of the blast, according to El Pais.

Footage posted by El Pais and local media showed a fireball erupting from the side of the ship as passengers were disembarking. A jagged hole was left in the side of ship near a passenger seating area, while debris and wounded people were seen scattered on the dock.

Initial reports indicated up to 25 people were hurt in the explosion. The Associated Press reported Friday that 19 Mexicans and at least five US citizens were injured.

Wounded passengers and emergency personnel on a dock after an explosion on a ferry in Playa del Carmen, in Mexico's Quintana Roo state, February 21, 2018.play

Wounded passengers and emergency personnel on a dock after an explosion on a ferry in Playa del Carmen, in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, February 21, 2018.

(El Pais/YouTube)

On Thursday, explosive devices were found on another ferry that was docked in Cozumel and is owned by the same company. A company diver cleaning the hull reportedly found the devices, which appeared to be a lengths of PVC pipe tied to pylons under the ship.

The boat in question was reportedly moored more than 500 yards off the coast of Cozumel and had been out of operation for 10 months, according to local officials and Quintana Roo state Gov. Carlos Joaquin.

State prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech Cen told Mexican media that Mexican navy divers removed the explosives and turned them over to the Defense Department for examination. Pech Cen said there was no danger to tourists because the boat was not in service and was anchored far from the dock.

Pech Cen and Quintana Roo’s Tourism Department both said the Defense Department has yet to say definitively what the device was.

State and federal prosecutors are investigating, the Tourism Department said in a statement, adding “the cooperation of international agencies such as the FBI is accepted.”

Both boats belonged to Barcos Caribe, which is owned by Roberto Borge Martin, the father of former Quintana Roo Gov. Roberto Borge, a member of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, who was extradited from Panama to Mexico in January to face charges of embezzlement and abuse of public office.

Playa del Carmen.play

Playa del Carmen.

(Wikimedia Commons)

The state’s Tourism Department said one line of investigation is that the incidents were related to the ferry company’s internal affairs.

“I would say the effect on the tourist population is an undesired collateral effect of something that probably has some other motive,” federal Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete said.

A narcomanta, a kind of banner message often left in public by criminal groups to claim crimes or make accusations, appeared in Cozumel in late February.

The banner, signed by a group calling itself “El Cartel del Pumba y Tata,” claimed the attack and threatened similar acts against the home of the Perla Tun Pech, the mayor of Cozumel.

Quintana Roo, home to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum, and other tourist hubs, has seen a considerable rise in violence in recent months, much of which is thought to be related to organized crime and drug trafficking. During a two-day period in January 2017, Playa del Carmen was marred by an early-morning shooting at a nightclub that left five dead, followed hours later by an attack on the state prosecutor’s office in the city, which left four dead.

Homicides state-wide rose 117.5% between 2016 and 2017, according to government statistics. The US State Department issued a travel advisory for Quintana Roo in August 2017, though the state was not included in a January notice that issued a level-four warning for five of the country’s states, the State Department’s highest level of alert.

Mexico’s tourism industry brings in $20 billion a year. Quintana Roo receives 10 million tourists a year, one-third of the country’s total.