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Coki Beach is next to the very popular Coral World in St. Thomas

Death in Coki Beach
The cruise industry is abuzz about a horrible crime-related accident that occurred earlier this week. A young woman of only fourteen years was fatally shot while on a shore excursion she purchased onboard Carnival Victory. She was on an open air bus on the most popular island for cruise ships in the Caribbean, possibly in the world, St. Thomas U.S.V.I.

The only thing accidental about her untimely death is that she was not the intended victim; somehow the bus happened to get caught in the crossfire of a domestic gunfight apparently between two rival gangs on the island. The intended victim was also shot, and the alleged murderer is now in custody and charged with two counts of first degree murder. Another Carnival passenger was also injured in the gunfire, according to Carnival.

The victim, Lizmarie Perez Chaparro, was on the cruise to celebrate her 15th birthday, which sadly she never saw.

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St. Thomas can host as many as five or six ships on a given day, especially during the middle of the week when ships on seven-day cruises leave from Florida ports on the weekend. I am not sure why St. Thomas is so popular since there is not really much to do there beyond shopping, but it is found on the itinarary of every ship going to the Caribbean.

Coki Beach has been one of my favorite places to visit in St. Thomas since my first cruise to the island in 1983. I have even recommended this beach many times, solely because it is also the site of the popular tourist attraction Coral World - where for $19 one can see all kinds of Caribbean sea life. There are marinas with sharks and sea turtles, plus black light exhibits of jellyfish and other exotic Caribbean sea creatures you would otherwise never see. Coral World even includes an underwater structure with glass windows to look out on a live coral reef. It's like snorkeling without getting wet.

Coral World even offers swimming with sea lions, a "shark encounter" and "Snuba diving," an apparatus that allows you to breathe underwater and even walk along the sea floor by wearing heavy weights and a helmet connected to air tubes from above.

I have also done a little swimming at the beach next door to Coral World, Coki Beach. There is a stand there that rents snorkel gear like masks and fins for very reasonable prices. Or if you forgot your bathing suit you can buy one there for a little money and change into it. It is a quiet, calm beach on a beautiful curved inlet.

Of course Coki Beach is the name of the beach, but it is also the name of the surrounding neighborhood where the gunfight occurred. How close to the beach it occurred I cannot say, but if this incident means the end of Coral World it will be sad for me. I have many fond memories of that place.

The brand new Norwegian Epic, making its first call to St. Thomas, cancelled all shore excursions going through the Coki Beach area and also offered refunds to any passengers who chose not to go on any shore tour on St. Thomas. Of course, Coki Beach is at the end of a long arm of the island of St. Thomas, so it is safe to say the tours that were cancelled were those going to Coral World. There are other popular beaches on St. Thomas, such as Magen's Bay, but Coki Beach has Coral World, and is otherwise far quieter and set in a beautiful inlet.

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I suppose Coral World will go on, but people will have to get there in regular cars from now on. The open air tropical buses that are such a part of the St. Thomas experience will probably no longer be allowed to traverse that particular neighborhood.

St Thomas is a United States territory, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands along with St. Johns and St. Croix. Of these three islands, St. Johns is mostly a non-populated (4000 people) national park while St. Croix is a more populated island but largely bereft of tourism. St Thomas' largest city, Charlotte Amalie, is the capital of the island group.

This is not the first crime involving cruise ship visitors in St. Thomas. Visiting cruise ships dock in a gated area appropriately named Havensight Pier where several pre-approved souvenir stores reside in a large concentration of strip malls with armed security guards.

The downtown area of Charlotte Amalie is about a 30 minute walk from Havensight, or one can take an open air bus for $5. In fact, several people have been robbed on this simple walk from the pier to downtown Charlotte Amalie over the years, yet little has been done to develop the area to make it safer.

I am sure Coral World itself is safe, but I very sorry to hear Coki Beach is in a bad neighborhood, and even sorrier for the victim and her family. Probably the only reasonable solution to improve safety and comfort for future travelers would be the privatization of the beach by selling it to some kind of developer.

Care to discuss this topic in our forums? Cruise ship passenger visiting St. Thomas killed during gang shootout.

Care to discuss this topic in our forums? Cruise ship passenger visiting St. Thomas killed during gang shootout.

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