Cruise staff arrested in Vancouver ordered deported, accused of cocaine smuggling
Three Nicaraguan crew members arrested on a cruise ship docked at Canada Place last week are now being deported under the transnational crime provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Federal officials allege they smuggled Colombian cocaine to Canada while muling for a cartel.
Willard Murray Brooks, Emil Hebbert Garth and Jason West Carter appeared before adjudicator Michael McPhalen at a hearing in downtown Vancouver Friday morning. Though an interpreter was on hand, the three men said they understood the proceedings and didn’t dispute the information provided by Canada Border Services representative Mason Cooke.
Cooke says after interviewing the trio, they pieced together a story that started with Murray Brooks being recruited by a Colombian cartel, which promised him “a lifetime of partying” if he joined them.
He then drafted Hebbert Garth and West Carter and the three of them met a man in Cartagena, Colombia who gave them 10 kilograms of cocaine and instructions on what to do when they arrived Vancouver. They then allegedly smuggled the cocaine aboard the Island Princess cruise ship when it was docked in Cartagena. They did so in secret compartments of their shoes and clothing.
Publically available marine traffic tracking data shows the Island Princess made a stop in Panama on April 24, followed by Los Angeles May 5, and San Francisco May 7 before arriving in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 11.
Cooke says Murray Brooks, Hebbert Garth and West Carter took five kilograms of the cocaine to the Pacific Centre food court at 11 a.m. that day and waited, as instructed, be contacted by a man they did not know. That man met them, took them to his car, and paid them US$30,000 in exchange for the drugs. They tucked the cash into their underwear before heading back to the ship at Canada Place.
When they went through routine CBSA screening at the cruise ship terminal, officials found the undeclared cash. A search followed, with assistance from the Vancouver police canine unit, and CBSA says they discovered another kilogram of cocaine in the men’s personal quarters.
From CTV’s Chopper 9, passengers could be seen pacing the decks of the cruise ship as the vessel was delayed approximately three hours by the search. Princess Cruises says while the departure was late, the overall itinerary was not impacted and the cruise to Alaska continued as planned.
McPhalen asked the three men, clad in red detainment garb, whether they disputed the information provided by a CBSA staffer. They did not. They also said they did not fear a return to their home country of Nicaragua, where they are expected to be flown within seven days. CBSA will hold Princess Cruise Lines responsible for the travel costs.
In his decision to grant a deportation order, McPhalen said the three men are a flight risk and will be detained until flights can be arranged.
“You’ve all shown very bad judgement,” he told the trio. “You must’ve brought the drugs across a number of international borders from Colombia to Canada.”
CBSA refused CTV’s request for an interview, and would not say whether the agency is ramping up screening at the cruise ship terminal now that Vancouver’s busiest ever cruise ship season is about to begin. In an email statement, a spokesperson wrote, “The CBSA takes its border protection responsibilities very seriously… All persons seeking entry into Canada, must present themselves to the CBSA and may be subject to a more in-depth examination, and cruise ship passengers and crew are no exception.”
The BC RCMP says while charges will not be recommended against the men, they are still investigating.
“The drug-related investigation remains active and on-going,” said Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau in an email. “Investigators are dealing with a number of required tasks. We continue to work with our partners in detecting and deterring drug importation into BC/Canada.”