A Former Cop’s Perspective on the Ferry Explosion in Playa del Carmen

Ferry Pier in Playa del Carmen (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

Over the past three weeks, I’ve received dozens of emails from readers asking what I thought about the explosion aboard a ferry in Playa del Carmen.

Although I normally don’t write blog posts about current events, I’m going to make an exception in this case because there is so much misinformation being circulated on the Internet about the incident.

The Explosion that Started it All

On February 21st, there was an explosion on a passenger ferry in Playa del Carmen that had just arrived from Cozumel. The explosion occurred after the passengers had left the vessel; however, more than two dozen people who were on the pier at the time were injured by flying debris.

It was soon determined that the explosion was not accidental and that an explosive device had been placed on the top deck of the vessel.

Now, this is where the “misinformation” part comes in. If this incident had occurred in England or France, the news outlets would have been speculating that blast was the result of terrorism at the hands of religious zealots, but when the blast occurs in Mexico — well, then it must be “narco-terrorism”.

I read several news stories from the United States about the ferry explosion that included unrelated statistical information about narco-violence and homicide rates across the country.

This story line got a boost on February 27th when a blanket with a message was found hanging on the fence of a church in Cozumel. It had a message claiming that a local criminal group was responsible for the blast and they included a threat against the mayor of Cozumel.

As a former cop with 25 years of investigative experience, I could not have been more skeptical at that point.

It doesn’t make sense that a criminal organization — whose ultimate goal is to make money — would plant a bomb in a popular tourist area. It would scare away their customers (i.e. the tourists) and bring a lot of additional police to the area.

Although I had no evidence to support my belief, I suspected that the message was just a way to capitalize on the media hype and divert attention away from the true suspects.

This case was starting to resemble a plot from a James Patterson novel.

The Plot Thickens

On March 1st, divers located an explosive device on a vessel belonging to the same ferry company, Barcos Caribe. The vessel was docked 500 meters off the shore of Cozumel and had not been used in the past 10 months.

Since all of the incidents involve the same company, the investigation has focused heavily on Barcos Caribe and one of the owners, Roberto Borge Martín. He is the father of the former governor of Quintana Roo, Roberto Borge Angulo, who is currently incarcerated on charges of embezzlement.

There is quite a bit of speculation that the motive was insurance fraud since the family is having financial difficulties due to the pending criminal charges.

The insurance fraud hypothesis was bolstered by an article from news correspondent Raúl Rodríguez Cortés of El Universal on March 7th.

The reporter claims that there is a video in the hands of the investigators that shows Roberto Borge Martín boarding the ferry in Cozumel with an unknown man carrying a backpack. When the ferry arrived in Playa del Carmen, Roberto Borge Martín hurried off of the ferry and the unknown man was seen leaving without his backpack.

This case is still under investigation but I expect a few more twists and turns before it’s all over.

Just to Be Clear

I know that some readers just skim through articles looking for key points, so I wanted to make this one very clear:

Authorities have publicly ruled out the possibility of terrorism or that the incident was perpetrated by drug cartels or organized crime. 

So, please disregard any earlier articles to the contrary that continue to be circulated on social media.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The U.S. Department of State still has a travel advisory prohibiting U.S. government personnel from using the ferries but I predict that will be lifted as soon as the case is closed.

Meanwhile, security has been increased at the ferry and thousands of people continue to use it daily without any issues whatsoever.

This article still doesn’t address all of the safety/security questions that we’ve received from readers. There is still the matter of the cryptic U.S. travel advisory related to select neighborhoods in Playa del Carmen. I’ll address that one in a future post.

UPDATE 03/18/18:The U.S. Department of State cancelled both travel advisories. You can read more about that HERE.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

73 Comments on "A Former Cop’s Perspective on the Ferry Explosion in Playa del Carmen"

  1. Tracy and Glenn McDougall | March 15, 2018 at 9:49 am |

    I’m going with the “insurance fraud” theory!

  2. Ben Troemel | March 15, 2018 at 9:54 am |

    Excellent Paul, thanks for your insight!

  3. Francisco Gomez-Dossi | March 15, 2018 at 9:54 am |

    Paul, I was the one of those that asked for that information and I want to thank you for that clarification.

  4. Angie Fiocati | March 15, 2018 at 9:55 am |

    Thank you so much for this! Although I am in KC, my heart is in Qroo! It is hard for me to see all of the negative press about the area when I know a different side to such a wonderful place with so many wonderful people!

  5. I read in Mexico News Daily that narco gangs have become active in the Riviera Maya.

    • There have been narco gangs in the Riviera Maya for decades. On occasion, there is violence between the groups to control territory. It’s all about money. The violence between the groups is normally confined to people operating within those groups or associated with them. You see the same thing throughout the urban areas in the United States too.

      • There has been an increase in violence between that began last year and that’s why you’re hearing about it more.

  6. Patrick Durkin | March 15, 2018 at 9:59 am |

    Thanks, Paul for your insight. What you have described based on the current finding of the local authorities make a heck of a lot more sense than anything coming from our national news. Nothing changes my desire to get over to Cozumel and get some good diving in. This just reaffirms that. Thanks!

  7. Petra Schwartz | March 15, 2018 at 10:02 am |

    Thanks for addressing this. I frequently feel that things are done and said to sometimes scare people. When the State Department put the travel advisory, it’s for government employees not for the general public. But, many people take travel advisories as all US citizens should stay away. I read where someone from the Mexican government had indicated they didn’t understand why the State department would have such a warning. I sometimes start to wonder if this is another way to get people in the US to think that Mexico is bad, there’s too much violence, stay away, keep the bad people away. I disagree with this viewpoint, of course. There’s enough violence in the US that I think some states and cities should be on travel advisory lists of their own.

  8. I am so glad you made this clear. This makes waaay more sense.

  9. Thank you. That makes much more sense than drug cartel terrorism. I’ve never felt unsafe in Mexico.

  10. Donna Curran | March 15, 2018 at 10:06 am |

    Thank you! We spend 3 months every year at Isla Mujeres in the winter. The hype by the media scares so many people. Appreciate your perspective on this. Love Isla and will not stop going there!

  11. I so much enjoy your posts. I was a reporter for the Sun Sentinel and a part time instructor at Broward Community College. I have lived in Oaxaca City for 20 years and self published a “memoir” about my observations and adventures here. I focus on lifestyle and customs, much as you do and reading about the similiarities and differences is entertaining. The 4th printing of my book has almost sold out. If you ever dry your toes and venture inland to our high valley, I would love to meet you two.

  12. Alan P Benton | March 15, 2018 at 10:07 am |

    Thank you! The government & media in US & Canada have been really vague about this.

  13. Thanks for posting, I enjoyed!

  14. quinn miller | March 15, 2018 at 10:08 am |

    choice read, thanks for the facts Paul…

  15. Annette OBrien | March 15, 2018 at 10:09 am |

    Thank you so much for this information and it certainly does make sense. I have never felt unsafe in Mexico either.

  16. Dear Paul,

    I like you assessment. Always follow the money!

    On my last trip to the Mayan Riviera and the Costa Maya (before the issues with the ferry) i was told and I experienced a much higher rate of ‘mordidas’ along the coastal routes. In talking to cab drivers ( who are always in the know) they told me that the increase in this level of corruption was due to these folks in positions of power being corrupt, at the end of their terms, and as such trying to get their last bites; and NOT to organized narco-terrorism or international terrorism. Everyone in MEXICO makes a great deal of money from tourist as such no one, except those at the end of their ropes, will do anything that can kill the goose that laid e golden huevo!

    Again, good analysis of the situation at hand!

  17. Diane McNair | March 15, 2018 at 10:24 am |

    As former law enforcement myself,
    I also believed the whole “cartel” theory smelled quite fishy from the beginning. Thanks for your insight Paul.

  18. It’s pay back , local family. , stop I’d yourself former cop , Mexican folks hate all official been here 15 years you should advise México is crazy on good day.

  19. Thanks for the clarification Paul. Sad to read of an execution in Akumal yesterday though. We’ll be there in a few weeks. This doesn’t bother me to much but these mid day shootings are very brazen.

  20. Pabo (Patti and Bob) | March 15, 2018 at 10:26 am |

    It’s nice to read the “real news” (not the “fake news”) about a violent act in our beloved Mexico! I’ve all but stopped going on FB in PV (we live full time here) because the rumors and innuendos get out of hand. The real story is lost amid speculation and what people “think” happened.

    We still plan to venture on your side of Mexico some day Paul! Gracias!

  21. Renee Campion | March 15, 2018 at 10:33 am |

    Thanks for this article! I was in Tulum when this was being reported in the US. My friend who lives in Cancun told us exactly what you wrote here. Blown out of proportion in the US (no pun intended). I always feel safe in Mexico and it saddens me how things are reported in the US. I am a police officer and look forward to spending my soon retirement in Mexico.

  22. Excellent read very informative. Thanks so much for your due diligence in this matter

  23. It doesn’t help that the US government is “fueling” fears by issuing warnings that conveniently match current administration’s dislike of Mexico. I never saw a travel warning or ban to England or France. So… makes you kinda wonder.

    My favorite headline lately: “Mexico has high American death rate”

    Articles says data is for ALL deaths. BUT, fails to mention the huge retirement community in Mexico.

    Gee, Nursing Homes have some of the highest death rates… I wonder why?

  24. As a professional skeptic, I never take anything the news reports at face-value. I too was not buying the news reports of what didn’t make any sense of the story being told.

    Know this. Reporters, journalist, et. al. are trained story tellers, nothing more. Their real job is to get you to stare at the boob-tube long enough for sponsors to cram advertisements for adult diapers, laundry detergent and dangerous prescription drugs. That is their job. Unlike the legendary tale journalists spin of being the arbiters and protectors of truth, the mainstream media and its agents are the flashing lights and clanging bells behind the carnival barker, designed to get your attention. Hardly a noble endeavor.

    They have spun tales of global wars on terrorism, drugs, poverty, climate change, and Russian collusion. All these stories need evidence to support their premises. So, just as terrorists co-opt bombings and shootings by claiming responsibility for them, the media co-opts events and spins them and fashions them to fit their stories and narratives. Add to that the 24 hour news cycle, fierce competition for viewer/listener eyes and ears, and extremely short half-life of any breaking news realize that no in-depth investigative reporting can occur before the “official story” is beamed at light-speed the globe. Only much later, after non-media types with the skills, knowledge and experience to investigate an event and formulate sound conclusions does the “truth” come out. But even then, the media spins objective truths to support their initial stories and ongoing story lines, lest they be discovered to be inaccurate worse, untrustworthy.

    Paul, your cursory investigation has revealed a much more plausible reason for an inexplicably random bombing of the ferry than 1000 reports from 1000 media outlets. However, since the story has already been floated out there for a couple weeks, and that story is day-old bread, what the public will remember is they heard something about narcos attacking tourists in Mexico, and Mexico is still a dangerous narco infested country, just like what they’ve seen on television shows like Breaking Bad.

    Now, at the risk of being branded a conspiracy theorists, insurance fraud explains more than just this bombing, leading to the truth of things as tall as the twin towers. In most things, the truth can be found by getting the answers to these 3 questinos: “Who is profiting from this?” “Who gained power as a result of this?” and “What other news goes unreported as a result of this?”

    • Thanks for taking the time to write such a insightful and well-written comment. I really enjoyed reading it. Have you ever considered writing a blog? I think it would do quite well.

  25. Thank you for writing this. It definitely puts my fears to rest as we are coming next week and traveling with our 10 year old son. Nice to hear a voice of reason plus the experience of a past law enforcement officer. Also, your Spanish lessons are terrific! It was an excellent refresher from my long ago high school Spanish.

  26. Thanks Paul! We live in Phoenix, AZ and plan on relocating to River Maya in the near future. When we see these travel advisories for Mexico we reflect on the reality of gang wars, murders, kidnappings, and other crime right in our own city. Wonder why the State Dept. doesn’t issue a travel advisory for Phoenix?

  27. Thanks Paul, we were just leaving Playa after a month of wonderful time when this happened. We have never felt unsafe there. We appreciate your insight

  28. Sarah Sleight | March 15, 2018 at 11:28 am |

    Reading about the bombing in the Orlando Sentinel lead me to believe there was an all out drug war going on in the area. Glad to hear the truth from a local. Can’t wait to get to Cancun in April.

  29. I’ve been waiting for your take on this, Paul. Thanks. Great to get some non-sensationalized info.

    BTW, your are a great writer! I love how you approach things with a sense of humor (“the plot thickens”). You should write a book! Oh wait… You should write ANOTHER book!

  30. Betsye McDonald | March 15, 2018 at 11:32 am |

    Many thanks to you and your wife for taking your time to do this blog. Your insight is appreciated! !

  31. Totally agree! I was frustrated by all the misleading information. Thank you for helping to spread the real story!
    ~15 year resident of Cozumel

  32. Thanks Paul, I was hoping you’d give your assessment of this matter. Took this whole story with a grain of salt, knowing that our current potus loves making Mexico look as bad as possible. But I tend to believe your take on this.

  33. There is crime everywhere! Mexico has its problems, as does the US, (look at what’s happening there now)or any other place.
    There is no Utopia! I am so glad to be part of beautiful Playa!

  34. Sue Zielinski | March 15, 2018 at 11:55 am |

    Thank you for the information.

  35. To Jean G: great comment! So true of a lot of places in the US! Makes living here in the Yucatán even better! Thanks!

  36. Thanks for the update Paul. Good to know.

  37. Great article Paul, thanks for the clarifications. But do we trust the “investigation” of the very people who are on the take? My wife and I spend quite a bit of time in Cozumel and along the Riviera Maya and I’ve never had any problems, but I must say it’s the only place we travel in the world where we do not trust the police or Government officials. What has your experience been, or true stories you can relay, about graft in our beautiful Yucatan. Keep up the great work, lovin’ your articles !!
    BTW, your Spanish course is by Miles the best we have ever found, great for beginners or to just brush up before your next trip . Two thumbs up

  38. Thanks Paul! I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to dispel all the rumors. Really appreciate your ‘clinical’ view on this.

  39. Hola Paul, I think you got it right again; and much more likely. After living here full time for very nearly 18 years, it is rare to hear a story from any news agency, tourist, and even many locals who do not simply regurgitate a rumor or news report – lazy for reporters to not come to the area and investigate with their flip flops on the ground.

    After Googling for more information about the consular office in Playa, I only found a reference in the Times-Picayune New Orleans newspaper that the consular was reopened this week and was only closed for a long weekend! Nice if the US State Department would make their revised travel statements as easy to find (and shared with the legitimate news agencies) as their waving-hands-in-the-air-while-jumping-up-and-down inicial travel warnings. Gracias muchissimo.

  40. Thanks for your views. Getting the info from someone there is comforting. We couldn’t make our yearly trip next month because of this darn security advisory. Really hope it is lifted son and I am back next year!!! wah ;”(

  41. Larry Olstad | March 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm |

    Thanks, Paul, for a concise and realistic analysis. I have emailed the link to this page to several of my friends back in the US – all lawyers – who are just certain I may be shot or killed any day in random cross-fire. I live in Mazatlan, and several of them believed this was right next door. Your blog is a never-ending source of correct information and good advice, and I am grateful for the work you have done and continue to do.

  42. I was concerned about all.the murders there since January many narco related the assassin who made a broad day hit on a cartel leader in the hospital killing him and gf in front of their child or the hit on the restaurant owner in Tulum on front of many merely calming walking out. This is a matter to.me of great concern not covered on this story. I think the stats are 74 homicide s since Jan. Then there is the Ontario man robbed and beaten left for dead in.Playa, his story a little skeptical

  43. Frank Little | March 15, 2018 at 3:12 pm |

    Can’t get the investigational part out of your DNA. Frank Little

  44. Thanks, Paul! Either here or in a future posting, would you please describe the visible measures you referred to when you said, “security has been increased at the ferry”?

  45. Marjonneke Grech | March 15, 2018 at 4:07 pm |

    Thank you! Helpful information and analysis.

  46. John Fosbaugh | March 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm |

    Thank You. You are always so informative.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read the posts. If no one read them, I would stop writing them.

  47. Thank you for your input! Helpful information as always!

  48. I have spent may years gound ti the Yucatan three times year but last year I was staying next to the Blue Parrot hotel and that shoot out, well have not been back since,

  49. David Bossman | March 15, 2018 at 10:11 pm |

    Paul..Are you suggesting that the Drug Cartels could not have been involved in the ferry bombing? Thank you.

    • In a press conference, Deputy Attorney General Arturo Elias Beltran said that they have ruled out the involvement of organized crime in this case (i.e. the drug cartels).

  50. Valencia greene | March 15, 2018 at 11:07 pm |

    Thank you Paul for your informative information I’m traveling with a group of 29 woman on april4 to Playa del carmen and i have been keeping my eye on the news and reading ….i am always aware of my surroundings ….but this makes me feel a bit better although i won’t be going on any ferries

    • I’m sure that once you’re here and see the area firsthand, you feel relaxed and realize that this continues to be a safe tourist destination.

      Have a great time 🙂

  51. I have followed this story with the details and updates you have written also. Usually in my past experiences, the truth takes time to come out or it is never solved. Unfortunately in Mexico
    more so than in Canada , many missing or murder crimes are never solved. Corruption
    and cartel are eating away the beautiful country and it’s people. Most that know successful business owners in Playa know the demands for protection money is growing.
    Can only hope that good changes will happen for the Mexican people, they do not derive this.
    We love Mexico and it’s people.

  52. Great work, Sherlock – love your investigative and writing style.

  53. Thank you for the rational explanation and info on the local investigation. We get the sensational incident headlines in the US but never any nuanced follow-up info.

    • The only U.S. news outlet that I have seen that has continued to do accurate follow up has been the Washington Post.

  54. Richard 'Jefe" Hileman | March 16, 2018 at 11:32 am |

    Not that it changes your conclusions, but I think it actually started with Aldora Divers dragging in the first IED and then it was counter charged in Fonatur marina. This was a couple days, I think, before the ferry blast. I do miss Barcos Caribe though. That leather couch on the main deck was traveling in style.

  55. Can you tell me anything about the threat to play del Carmen…3 ladies travelling there in April…is it safe to taxi from resort to ferry then ferry over to cozumel and then ferry and taxi back to resort again?

    • Tourists continue to do that everyday without any problem whatsoever. This is a very safe place for tourists, not just inside the resorts, but also in the surrounding areas. You can take tours from the hotel, rent a car and do some exploring or take a cab to some local restaurants safely.

  56. Hi Qroo, thank you for the follow up on regarding ttlhe security concerns in the Maya. As with crimes not involving religious zealots or of passion follow the money… embezzlement, political opportunism , nepotism and simple insurance fraud as it seems in this case. To put this in perspective these crimes happen on a daily basis in my state of Arizona and we never hear about it. It happens in Mexico much less and after the media spin frightened Americans run for cover and tourism suffers by hundreds of millions of dollars. We all love Mexico for many reasons but especially for the lovely people that reside there and we will be traveling to the Maya much more now because this misperception infuriates me and we will be giving these lovely people more of our dollars now as a result. I feel Much more secure walking in downtown Playa or Tulum at night than I do in downtown USA. ( I’ll probably hear about that comment from my Fiancée ) we all have choices in life but we will not be intimidated by an isolated incident and we will fight for the people in Mexico that we love so much. I find myself reading my absolute favorite Parable after hearing about these senseless tradgedies “the mexican fisherman” and it puts it all in perspective for me. Well done qroo, cheers, J K

  57. We are headed to Akumal in a week and heard a rumor of a recent shooting, can you provide any details or insight? I had switched our hotel from Playa Del Carmen to Akumal based on news reports and just trying to be overly protective of the two 18yr olds I am bringing for it is my two youth that I am most concerned for, thanks for clearing things up regarding PDC.

    • The shooting involved people a dispute between people who appeared to have a preexisting relationship with one another. An event like that in Akumal is extremely rare.

  58. Paul, I like your name!

  59. First rule: Never believe American news reports about the U. S. A. Second rule: never believe American news reports on Mexico.

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