07 January 2011
Drug traffickers are stepping up efforts to target cruise liners as a method of smuggling cocaine from the Caribbean and South America to the lucrative markets in Europe, SOCA and the UK Border Agency have warned.
Staff in cruise companies and travel agents have now been given a list of tell-tale signs to help them identify passengers who aren't just there for a holiday and protect themselves more effectively against exploitation by criminal gangs.
The popularity of cruises with UK holiday makers has risen sharply in recent years and they now account for one in ten package holidays. At the same time, evidence has grown that criminals may be placing drug couriers on board and attempting to corrupt crew to ease their passage.
Nearly 2 million passengers are expected to take cruises next year, with around 600,000 embarking from UK ports. Particularly at risk are ships repositioning to Europe from their winter schedules in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America. Couriers are placed on board by organised criminals, with the potential to smuggle multi-kilo loads of cocaine or heroin. Typically they will try to smuggle the drugs into the UK as they disembark, either in their luggage or strapped to their bodies under baggy clothing.
SOCA and the UK Border Agency are also warning that criminals may attempt to corrupt crew members, whose access to all areas of the ship offers greater opportunities to conceal drugs. The drugs can then be removed either by the crew themselves or in collusion with passengers once the ship has reached a European port.
Advice offered to the industry includes paying close attention to passengers who book last minute paying in cash, choose not to engage in on-board activity, or don't appear to fit in with the other passengers, such as younger passengers on a cruise targeted at the over fifties. They are also advised to be on the look out for crew who attempt to access areas of the ship not associated with their job or who appear to have close association with passengers who may be a risk.
In May 2010, 2 unemployed Spanish men were jailed for 12 years each following a failed attempt to smuggle 33kg of cocaine through the Port of Southampton.
28 year old Tanasu De Jesus Quevedo-Ojeda and Oliver Vidal Hernandez, aged 27 had boarded the Black Watch cruise liner in Peru, and were due to remain with the ship as it travelled to the Canary Islands via Southampton.
They were arrested as they disembarked the ship at Southampton on 27 March, in a joint operation between the UK Border Agency and Hampshire Constabulary. The cocaine, which they had been paid to deliver to the UK, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, was concealed inside leggings worn beneath their trousers).
Later today, 4 Bulgarian and 4 Lithuanian nationals are due to be sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court for the attempted importation of 35kg of cocaine. UK Border Agency officers searched the MSC Orchestra at Dover on 6 May when it docked en-route to Amsterdam from Brazil and found the drugs sewn into body suits in the cabins occupied by those being sentenced.