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Florida-Bahamas Day Cruises Used By Drug Gangs, Says Border Patrol


December 1994

One-day excursion vessels from Florida to the Bahamas have become a new passageway for drugs and illegal immigrants, according to a report in the New York Times (Joel Brinkley, "For Aliens, a Bahamas Cruise Is an Easy Way Into the U.S.," New York Times, Nov. 29, 1994, p. A1).

A Border Patrol investigation, dubbed "Operation Seacruise," found that criminal gangs were using the cruise lines to smuggle their people into the U.S. to establish drug and weapons businesses. These gang "soldiers" were involved in murders, assaults, and drive-by shootings. When the soldiers were arrested, the gangs quickly sent in replacements via the cruiselines.

The Border Patrol investigation found the practices of immigration inspectors lacking. The inspectors are said to travel to the destination in a stateroom (provided by the cruise line free of charge), and once there enjoy the day shopping or swimming as the passengers do. Some inspectors take family and friends with them for free. During the return trip, an announcement is made that all non-citizens should report to the INS inspector in a designated room. The INS official checks the papers of those who show up. An illegal alien sneaking into the U.S. needs only ignore the announcement. Of course for those travelling by air, by car, or by longer cruises to the U.S., there is compulsory submission to inspection of baggage and ID verification for all passengers upon arrival.

"It's kind of a joke," said former INS inspector Marsha Lightsey Tivoli. "There's no clear-cut way to say you've seen every person on that ship -- or even really know who's on the ship."

The investigation found that members of a gang in the U.S. (with U.S. identification) would buy a $100 ticket for a day cruise and board the ship. When they arrived in the Bahamas, they would be issued a pass in order to reboard. On shore, they would sell the pass to illegal aliens (for $1000 to $2000) and/or make the aliens strap packets of drugs to their bodies for transport to the U.S. The illegal aliens only had to present the pass in order to get on the ship.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been tracking the use of these ships for illegal purposes, but has made no move to curb the practice.