Breaking: Cruise crew member dead in Cozumel

cruise crew member dead in cozumelWhile foul play has not been ruled out, the drowning death of a Royal Caribbean crew member in Cozumel brings the safety of Mexican ports of call back into focus along with the broader issue of cruise passenger safety in general.

The body of Monika Markiewicz a musician on Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas. 32, was recovered from the ocean off the southern part of the island Saturday. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be drowning but Markiewicz also suffered a blow to the head. Police are investigating.


“Tragically, we recently became aware that the crew member was a victim of a violent crime while ashore in a remote area in Cozumel,” said Royal Caribbean spokesperson Cynthia Martinez. “We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our crew member.”

The topic of Mexican ports of call is a hot issue with cruise lines and Mexican government officials alike. The tragic death of a crew member in Mexican waters, regardless of the reason, brings safety back into the spotlight.

Cozumel is a popular port of call for cruise ships, far removed from the drug gang violence in Mazatlan, a center of Mexican drug cartels. Cruise lines, always vigilant regarding the safety of passengers and crew recently and dropped calls to Mazatlan due to crimes against passengers and crew members.

Disney Cruise Line, Princess and Holland America dropped Mazatlan as a port of call on Mexican Rivera cruises last month. Mexican government officials responded with a cry of “no fair” saying their ports were safe, meeting with cruise line officials and promising a safe experience for cruise passengers.

“We highly value our long-standing relationships within the cruise industry, and are dedicated to ensuring that Mazatlan remains among the top cruise destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Mazatlan has hosted nearly 1.5 million cruise passengers since 2008 and is widely regarded as one of the safest destinations in Mexico.” said Julio Birrueta, spokesperson for the Mazatlan Tourism Trust.

Newly relocated Disney Wonder, bumped to the West coast when new Disney Dream took over in Florida was scheduled to visit Mazatlan on a series of seven-night sailings through April. Instead, that time will be spent in what is believed to be a safer Cabo San Lucas.

Just last week, cruise lines returned to Mazatlan after they believed safety issues had been addressed. The Mexican government bolstered its tourism police force with a special unit of plain-clothes security personnel in the main tourist areas, including shore excursion sites.

Still, crime involving tourists is an ongoing problem in Mexico. Tourism officials have been accused of attempting to minimize the issue. The US Department of State has urged caution visiting Mexico issuing a Travel Warning in September of last year saying “It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks involved in travel to Mexico.”

A cruise line crew member being found dead, for whatever reason, is indeed cause for concern in an ongoing look at the safety of ports around the world.

Last week, chaos and demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt sent cruise lines sailing in a different directions and land tour operators cancelling booked tours.

Cruise lines are modified itineraries for ships calling in Egypt and Tunisia, canceling all port calls in these two countries. While unrest/chaos continues in the area, cruise lines are playing it safe by keeping ships and passengers out of harms way.

Most recently, citing a “changing political environment” Disney Cruise Line as well as land tour operator Adventures by Disney is dropped Tunisia from all land and sea tours. They are just the latest of a growing number of cruise lines and tour operators to pull out of the troubled region.

“We continually evaluate our itineraries, and the decision to modify this itinerary was made in part due to the changing political environment in Tunis and the recent Travel Alert issued by the U.S. Department of State for Tunisia,” Disney spokesperson Christi Erwin Donnan told USA TODAY.

Indeed, cruise lines constantly monitor the situation at every port they call on, most commonly skipping ports for weather related reasons. More difficult to monitor but equally important, changing political environments and crime ashore too are a cause of concern regarding the safety of passengers and crew.