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Island’s tough line on cruise ship passengers with drugs is criticised

In port: Cruise ship suites

A US lawyer has condemned Bermuda’s “kangaroo courts” for prosecuting cruise ship passengers caught in possession of drugs.

Maritime attorney Jim Walker has suggested that authorities here target passengers in order to make money through fines — but are “indifferent” to arresting “real criminals” such as rapists or other violent offenders on-board ships because “there’s no money to be made”.

Miami-based Mr Walker’s outburst was prompted by the arrest of a 25-year-old US woman on-board the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship last month.

Chelsea Vega was fined $500 after customs officers found two grammes of marijuana in her cabin.

On his website, Jim Walker’s Cruise Law News, Mr Walker writes: “Busting US cruise passengers for small amounts of pot is big business for the customs officers in Bermuda.

“It’s a topic we have written about often. The cases all seem the same. When the cruise guests go ashore, the customs officers board the ship with their sniffer dogs and conduct warrantless searches without probable cause.

“They even request the ship security personnel to open up the safes in the cabins. A gram or two brings a $500 or so fine, which the passengers pay with a credit card to avoid the threatened three-month jail sentence.”

The article, headlined ‘More Reefer Madness from Bermuda’s Kangaroo Courts’, continues: “A newspaper in Bermuda reports that a US passenger, age 25, Chelsea, arrived in Bermuda on NCL’s Norwegian Breakaway.

“The customs officers found two grams of marijuana in her cabin’s safe. A man who shared her cabin (apparently her boyfriend) said the pot was his but that didn’t stop the police from handcuffing Chelsea and hauling her off to jail.”

Referring to a Royal Gazette report on the incident, Mr Walker noted that Ms Vega swore at customs officers after complaining that the handcuffs were causing her pain.

“This outburst led to the prosecutors charging her with violently resisting arrest,” Mr Walker said.

“The presiding judge, Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner, scoffed at the charges, pointing out that the woman did not become violent and cursed only after she was ignored when she complained of pain.

“The prosecutors introduced no evidence on the resisting arrest charge. Magistrate Warner then fined Chelsea $500 for the pot.

“People ask me, why do you care if cruise stoners get fined? The problem is that Bermuda has a strange sense of priorities.

“It delights in small time pot busts of vacationers with a cigarette or two in the cabin safe to be smoked for recreational use on the high seas, an issue the cruise line security should deal with.

“But rapes or violent shipboard crimes? Bermuda is indifferent to prosecuting rapists and criminals on Bermuda flagged ships.

“Compare Bermuda’s madness with the customs policy in Canada toward cruise ships. For a period of a year or so, customs officers in Halifax, Canada arrested four crew members and cruise passengers with child pornography on their computers.

“All of them served jail time. A good use of Canadian customs and judicial resources.

“But in Bermuda, you’ll never see a cruise rapist, paedophile or child porn pervert arrested by police or customs officers or sentenced by Magistrate Warner.

“There’s no money to be made in arresting real criminals.”

It is not the first time that Mr Walker has challenged Bermuda prosecutors.

“In an earlier article headlined ‘Reefer Madness Continues: Bermuda Shakes Down Another Cruise Pot Head’, the lawyer said Mr Warner should be given the title of Senior Collector of Revenue after he fined another cruise ship passenger $800 for possessing 12 grammes of cannabis.

In other articles Mr Walker referred to drug searches as “unconstitutional”, a “trap” and a “monkey game”.

“The cops in Bermuda love to bust American tourists with small amounts of pot, even if the pot never leaves the cruise ship,” he wrote.

And in a September 2012 post headlined ‘Bermuda’s Kangaroo Courts Back In Action’, Mr Walker wrote: “American passengers who are already kicked off the cruise ship and facing jail time are always quick to pay $500 to $3,000 to avoid a few months in the slammer on the rocky island.

“What a racket. The newspapers in Bermuda love covering these type of cases and are sure to plaster a photo of the busted pothead in their newspapers.”

Referring to a case of theft on-board the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship that went before Mr Warner, Mr Walker wrote: “I wonder how on Earth a judge in Bermuda could assert jurisdiction over a theft committed by a US citizen on a foreign flagged cruise ship in international waters.

“This would be amusing, I suppose, except for the fact that Bermuda demonstrates no interest in prosecuting serious cruise ship crimes.

“Bermuda looks the other way when faced with rapes, abandonment of mariners at sea, or mysterious disappearances of crew members that occur on cruise ships which are, in fact, flying the maritime flag of Bermuda.”