Are Drugs on Cruise Ships on the Rise?

Posted Feb 17th 2011 01:00 PMUpdated Feb 17th 2011 04:33 PM


cruise ships drugs


A cruise passenger was arrested in St. Thomas last week after federal agents found a load of party drugs he was allegedly dealing from his cabin on a gay charter cruise on the 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas. The bust on the world's largest ship was the latest in a series of recent high-profile incidents, begging the question, are illicit drugs on cruise ships increasing?

"What you might be looking at is an increase in passenger numbers," Migdalia Travis, spokeswoman for the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) field office in Miami, told AOL Travel News. "The amount of cruise passengers has increased and of course will account for an increase in contraband finds."

Travis notes both Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the world's two largest cruise ports, have experienced a substantial increase in traffic, with more and bigger ships – Fort Lauderdale saw cruise traffic rise 17% in the last fiscal year to more than 3.3 million passengers.

"You have millions of people arriving and only an extremely small percentage of them are subject to an enforcement action," Travis said.

While exact numbers are hard to come by, one major cruise line that asked not to be named, told AOL Travel News that out of its million-plus guests last year there were 127 instances of passengers found with illegal drugs onboard its ships, in most cases marijuana. The cruise line also recorded 36 instances of drugs found when passengers were trying to board – again, most marijuana for recreational use.

CBP uses drug-searching "dogs, technology and man-power" to find drugs on ships at U.S. ports, Travis said.


But the cruise lines also have their own efforts in place to keep drugs off their ships and find any drugs that do make their way onboard.

"While we are not in a position to comment on the specific operations of other cruise lines, we believe the recent drug-related arrests are the result of continued and ongoing cooperation between the cruise lines and law enforcement agencies," Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen told AOL Travel News.

It was the security team on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas that actually uncovered a big recent shipboard drug plot – an effort to use a ship to import drugs.

Three crew members of the Enchantment were busted on shore in Baltimore in December, for possession of $65,000 in cocaine. A few weeks later, federal authorities came on the ship with drug-sniffing dogs and found another $94,000 worth of heroin and cocaine, the drugs hidden in an employee locker, wrapped in silver duct tape.

The three men had allegedly picked up the drugs in the Dominican Republic with plans to sell the heroin and cocaine in Baltimore. They were indicted on charges of conspiring to import drugs.

In another recent case, Bermuda's Royal Gazette reported this month that a waiter on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas was found guilty of conspiring to import more than $425,000 worth of cocaine onto the island. Officials said Ricardo Stewart, 32, from Jamaica, was behind a plot that also involved other crew and passengers serving as mules to take the drugs off the ship. A sizeable stash was found hidden under a chair in the ship's disco.

But crew aren't the only ones who have been nabbed recently trying to use cruise ships to import drugs. In October, customs police in San Juan found about 6.48 kilograms of heroin, worth $324,000, in 15 pairs of shoes belonging to a 32-year-old woman disembarking Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, after a seven-day cruise. It's believed the drugs were picked up in the Dominican Republic.

"It just did not seem right that a stylish woman of that age would be taking a cruise with 15 pairs of 20- or 30-year-old men's shoes," said Jeffrey Quinones of the CBP office in San Juan.

Improved Search Efforts

That Royal Caribbean appears to have taken the lead in drug enforcement is perhaps not surprising when you consider the global security department at parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is headed by Gary Bald, who previously held the third most senior post at the FBI.

In an interview with AOL Travel News, Bald opined that drugs on cruise ships are not on the rise.

"What we see is occasional successes by our joint team, our security folks and our law enforcement partners," he said. "It doesn't happen often for us, but it happens enough to keep us focused on it."

Royal Caribbean has "a pretty good track record of detecting if a crew member or guest is bringing drugs on our ships," Bald added. "It is not an issue but a focus because we don't want it to be a problem."

Drugs on cruise ships are, of course, nothing new.

"Back in the early '80s, people would walk down the hall and practically sell the stuff," said Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO of national cruise travel agency Cruise Planners. "I've been onboard ships (recently) and seen dogs walking the corridors. There is much, much tighter security today than I witnessed 30 years ago."

jaccreative, Flickr

Eddie Segev, director of fleet security for Royal Caribbean, says cruise lines in general have made "leaps and bounds" in security including in drug detection in the 16 years he's been in the cruise business.

Drug enforcement, Segev says, starts with training, and he says every shipboard employee from entry level to the ships' captains, "are trained in a general awareness of drugs."

A new Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act was signed by President Obama last summer, requiring cruise lines to tighten security measures and report alleged crimes. But Bald says Royal Caribbean already had required programs in place.

In the Baltimore case, the ship's security team notified law enforcement "that these folks were involved in drug trafficking," Bald said. "Baltimore was a success story. We were unsuccessful as we would have preferred to detect it before it got on the ship, but we did deter it before it went off the ship."

Catching Offenders

When it comes to cruise passengers bringing drugs on ships for recreational use, CBP's Travis says some passengers may naively think they won't get into trouble at sea. They also might not realize the gravity of the situation if they get caught onboard, especially if they try to bring an illegal substance back into the U.S.

"If you are carrying it is a violation of law. If you bring it back it would be trafficking," Travis warns. She says cruise passengers also forget the ports of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Island, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, fall under U.S. jurisdiction.

pot cruise ship drugs


"I can tell you we inspect every ship that arrives in the U.S." Travis said. "We have many tools at our service and everyone is subject to inspection."

Cruise ships are also subject to inspection at foreign ports.

There have been several marijuana busts involving cruise passengers recently in Bermuda, which has stepped up its security efforts including more frequently bringing dogs on ships. The typical scenario, as experienced by a passenger on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship in July, is the passenger is hauled off the ship to jail, pleads guilty, is fined $1,500 and released.

Bald says Royal Caribbean uses a number of security measures to detect drugs including X-raying all luggage. The cruise line also sometimes calls in dogs, separate from CBP.

"We do have tools that people don't see, other methods to detect marijuana and other drugs," Bald said.

Guests too have a responsibility to report any illegal activity they encounter, he says.

Get Caught, Get Reported

When a passenger is caught with illegal drugs on a Royal Caribbean ship, "The gentleman or lady would be interviewed by the staff captain and security officer and we make a notification to law enforcement – and they would determine if an arrest would be made," Segev said.

"If a guest was smoking Mary Jane we would interact with them – and they would be kicked off the ship at the next port," Bald added.

Other cruise lines also operate with a similar "no tolerance" policy.

Bald says some cruises "may attract more attention from law enforcement than others."

In January, an annual "Jam Cruise" with acts including American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, was raided at the pier in Fort Lauderdale. CBP officials made 15 seizures on the MSC Poesia cruise including marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, hash oil, Ecstasy, prescription drugs and drug paraphernalia in mostly small quantities.

In the case of the Allure bust, the cabin of the accused seller was raided by federal agents in St. Thomas after a passenger was found with drugs and told investigators where he had purchased them.

In addition to drug enforcement efforts, cruise lines say they are getting requests to bring medical marijuana onboard of late.

Carnival's blogger John Heald wrote on Facebook in January, "It is not allowed, by the way, but that's now three requests in the last month or so."

Travel agency owner Fee says the real shocker is the "stupidity" of passengers who do bring drugs on cruise ships.

"You're hearing of people busted more often and it is shocking, people thinking they can do it," Fee said.

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The drugs are kept illegal to keep up the price for the bankers that control the flow of drugs all over the world. That is how they float their shaky banks. The US government goes along with it and uses troops in Afghanistan to guard and help grow the opium and then get the drug out of the country on large planes. This accounts for the numerous US warplanes downed with tons of heroin and cocaine. We live in an evil nation and if we cannot change it, some other country will.

July 17 2011 at 7:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to marxistcommie41's comment

The "bankers" have nothing to do with "the flow of drugs all over the world", typical crazy conspiracy speak. You are also using the word float incorrectly. The reason drugs are expensive is because of demand, plain and simple. The reason drugs are still illegal is because of the money involved in their prohibition. The prohibition of drugs supports many large enterprises throughout the world and millions of people would be out of a job if they were legal. The majority of the general public doesn't want drugs to be legal either. I won't even tough on the Afghanistan comment and "downed US warplanes with tons of heroin and cocaine", maybe just laugh a little. I bet you think FEMA is stockpiling coffins and commercial aircraft deposit chemtrails. Put your tinfoil hat back on please, maybe it'll stop all the waves from HAARP entering your brain.

March 06 2013 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Who would be STUPID enough to bring drugs and/or pot on a cruise? If they get caught, they deserve everything that happens to them!

March 28 2011 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cruise lines used to be more lax. I went on one with my family back in 1987 when I Was about 10. I specifically remember the night we were going to sail back into US waters. The entertainment told everyone we are leaving international waters, smoke it if you got it. You will get caught if you don't get rid of it now. They didn't care, they didn't want anyone in trouble.

February 20 2011 at 8:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rock Fossil

OH, I forgot.....The "War" on drugs keeps all the real crooks working, like the Judges, Lawyers, Bailiffs, Stenographers and the phony news media we're left with that make much ado over doo doo. Geez, what will the History channel do if all the gangs disappeared off the streets, no more Gangland series to scare the BeeJesus out of its viewers all the while making the core scum of the series namely the gang members heroes to their peers!!!

February 20 2011 at 8:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why dont you all get real and quit acting like a bunch of ol fuddy duds. For years there has been the illict use of drugs on board cruise ships. Quit trying to act like this is something new that just happened. Get Real and let them party.

February 20 2011 at 6:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This dumb-ass war on drugs - piss-off

February 20 2011 at 5:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rock Fossil

Go away with this war on drugs! It's all really about control of human behavior. The War on Drugs is a 40 year old abysmal failure. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan needed to smoke some a long time ago, it would have mellowed out their Gestapo methods. Legalize it and end the war, know the players and take the black market prospect of fast cash out of the violent hands of the gangs controlling it and more war and all the states and Federal bureaucracies will have windfall profits at their disposal to spend on important things like jobs and crumbling infrastructure!

February 20 2011 at 5:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just another example of a huge "Entitlement" program gone awry! That is the entitlement of people to earn a living, and pension, enforcing draconian laws, and preying on innocent members of society who are doing nothing morally wrong! We need to take a hard look at these "Entitlement" programs, and eliminate them! I for one am tired of having my hard earned tax dollars used to support people who make a good wage to harrass, and lock up people who have a desire to use recreational substances other than alcohol.

Congressmen, looking for ways to cut the budget? Cut these drug enforcement programs, they need to be eliminated from our budget completely!

February 20 2011 at 5:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vicki l. morin

With all the strangeness of things going on on cruise ships,I wouldn't even consider going on a cruise. Too much food poisoning,too many crimes that go on without anyone's knowledge(missing people/rapes),not to speak of all the international laws someone would have to face. So,if a ship is sailing under the Norwegian flag,while in another port,does that mean the crimes have to be prosecuted in a Norwegian court of law?HHMM?

February 20 2011 at 4:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kline j1

This is a joke, cartels do not use an entire cruise ship to move a few kilos here and there, the one's getting caught are the pawns.
If they were able to find 10 Lb's topside, then all they need to do is go down in the ship's holds, to the garbage bay (where your'e dog's ase absolutley usless) which is why they are there in the FIRST PLACE, and dig out the mother load, before it gets away on the garbage trucks.

February 20 2011 at 4:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply