BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) – A cruise ship returning to Baltimore carried more than vacation memories.
Alex DeMetrick reports the ship was carrying drugs, smuggled by someone on board.
Drug-sniffing dogs found nearly $100,000 worth of cocaine and heroin aboard Royal Caribbean’s “Enchantment of the Seas” cruise ship in a federal investigation of an employee smuggling ring, authorities said Tuesday.
But who was smuggling these drugs is unknown. Authorities suspect a crew member, since passenger areas are removed from crew equipment lockers.
The search on Saturday uncovered 1 1/2 pounds of heroin and nearly a pound of cocaine aboard the ship Enchantment of the Seas. The ship was docked in Baltimore after a 12-day cruise to the Caribbean, and the drugs were found in a compartment that’s only accessible to employees, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said.
“Discovered in an equipment locker, roughly two pounds of cocaine and heroin, that were being smuggled into the United States,” said Ricardo Scheller, U.S. Customs. “The value is estimated at over $94,000 street value.”
This isn’t the first drug bust involving the cruise ship. Last month, three employees of the same ship were charged with conspiracy to import drugs after a previous journey to the Caribbean. According to court documents, one of them was caught onshore with similar amounts of cocaine and heroin and told authorities he planned to sell the drugs for $4,000 in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart near Baltimore’s cruise terminal.
The employees were arrested after the ship’s security officer alerted ICE that they might be involved in smuggling, according to court documents. Officers searched Gavin Excell, 35, and found drugs hidden in his pants and shoes, the documents show.
Excell told authorities that he and two other employees of the ship’s kitchen — John Swart Garth and Kishurn Neptune, both 27 — picked up the drugs from a Jamaican man in the Dominican Republic.
Loxly Johnson, 48, and Shenika Graves, 34, are accused of plotting to buy the drugs from the ship employees, the documents show. All five face the same charge of conspiracy to import heroin and cocaine.
Excell, Graves and Johnson have pleaded not guilty, and arraignments for Swart Garth and Neptune are scheduled for Friday.
Excell’s attorney, Christopher Purpura, said Tuesday that his client did not alert authorities to the additional drugs, but he noted that Excell was cooperative after his arrest, which led to the arrests of Johnson and Graves. Court records did not indicate whether the other two employees had hired attorneys.
It’s nothing new to see drug-sniffing dogs on boats. Like all ports of entry, either by ship, air or land, the search for contraband goes on around the clock.
“For smugglers, any mode of transportation into the U.S. is an avenue for them to smuggle. And a cruise line is just one more opportunity for them to introduce narcotics onto our streets,” said Scheller.
Law enforcement officials would not say whether the new drug seizure is linked to the previous case, and no further arrests have been made.
Cynthia Martinez, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman, initially told The Associated Press that the seizure was related to the previous arrests, but she later said she might have received incorrect information.
“Royal Caribbean continues to cooperate fully with authorities during their investigation of crew members onboard Enchantment of the Seas suspected of smuggling drugs,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to provide any assistance necessary to prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency is following up on leads related to the seizure but declined to comment further. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.
Enchantment of the Seas sails to Bermuda, New England and Canada and to various destinations in the Caribbean. It’s nearly 1,000 feet long and can hold up to 2,730 passengers, and features bungee trampolines and suspension bridges across the pool deck.
Because hundreds of people work aboard the cruise ship, customs agents say it was logistically impossible to narrow down a suspect, but the ship will remain of heightened interest to authorities.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)