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Charles R. Lipcon
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Jason R. Margulies is an experienced maritime lawyer and an active trial attorney handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Ricardo V. Alsina
Ricardo V. Alsina is an active trial attorney, handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
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Feds Arrest Bahamian Cruise Ship Drug Smuggler After Finding Cocaine Package

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Just days after our maritime lawyers reported that a drug smuggler was arrested after having nearly died from ingesting cocaine-filled pellets during a cruise ship vacation, another drug trafficker is now behind bars after being caught with illegal substances on a cruise. This time, the culprit was a Bahamian woman named Mechelle Tondeleah Clarke, who is now in federal custody after authorities accused her of smuggling drugs aboard a cruise ship that docked in Palm Beach, Florida.

Clarke, who is in her mid-20s, was traveling aboard a Celebration Cruise Line ship from the Bahamas to Riviera Beach. On April 20, Clarke handed over her suitcase to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for inspection, when officers discovered a “secret compartment” in the luggage where Clarke had hidden a suspicious looking package.

The package was wrapped in gift wrapping paper and inside it was about 2.25 kilograms of cocaine.


Clarke told authorities that the package was given to her by someone in the Bahamas, whose name was not mentioned in the federal complaint, who offered her between $2,000 and $3,000 to transport the drugs to an address in West Palm Beach.

Allegedly, Clarke knew the package contained drugs, but didn’t know what type of drug exactly or how much of the drug was inside. Isn’t that what they all say?
The cruise ship drug smuggler is now facing a charge of possession with intent to distribute in excess of 500 grams of cocaine.

Drug crimes are extremely common onboard cruise ships, but at least this smuggler didn’t make it very far. There are times when traffickers are able to surpass security and manage to get onto U.S. soil to distribute their illicit substances.

The man who ingested the pellets we reported about at the beginning of the month had made it back to Florida with over 80 pellets filled with cocaine inside his stomach. The suspect, Norman Mosch, 65, and his partner, Leslie McLeary, obtained the drugs while the cruise ship they were on was docked in Jamaica last December. The men were provided with dozens of cocaine-filled pellets which they were expected to consume and then expel once in Florida through either regurgitation or excretion. These types of drug smugglers are referred to as drug mules or couriers. The crime organizer has the mules swallow the substances in order to reduce their own risk of getting caught. Since the pellets are usually made of latex, the smugglers can pass through metal detectors and have their luggage inspected without getting caught. Once the mule arrives at their destination, the drugs are expelled and the mule receives their payment.

However, things didn’t go according to plan for Mosch. Once back onboard the vessel, Mosch started to feel strange and was later discovered nearly dead on the floor of his smuggling partner’s home in Boynton Beach. Turns out that one of the pellets had ruptured, which is not uncommon given the flimsy balloon-like pouches the drugs are placed in.

Mosch became so ill he wasn’t even able to speak with detectives until about a month after being admitted to the hospital. It took several days for doctors to even remove the pellets from his system and for him to even begin to recover. In total, Mosch had ingested two pounds and two ounces of cocaine. He was finally arrested this month on drug conspiracy charges, but this case just goes to show exactly how easily a drug mule can bypass cruise line security.

Cruise lines have been scrutinized in the past for their lack of security and safety, but ever since the Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire accident in February, there has been an even closer watch on the industry and push to improve maritime safety across all cruise companies.

Carnival has announced that it will undergo a multimillion dollar safety improvement project, but given the dozens of accidents and crimes that have taken place aboard the line’s fleet in just the first few months of the year, we can’t help but be skeptical that the “Fun Ship” liner will follow through with its promises to improve emergency systems.

As far as drug smuggling goes, it is much more difficult to fully prevent a mule from boarding a vessel or to uncover a drug smuggling ring onboard a cruise ship. But given the blatant lack of safety protocols and security enforcement across cruise lines, these incidents are much more likely to occur.

With a greater number of accidents and cruise ship crimes being reported, it is imperative that all travelers – as well as crew members – understand that the high seas can be dangerous. While some incidents cannot be prevented, there are several ways in which cruise goers can reduce their chances of getting hurt, such as by traveling in groups, carrying travelers checks instead of cash and keeping a first aid kit handy at all times.

Photo Credit: inc.com