Two men arrested for trying to smuggle drugs onto gay-cruise ship, police say

Peter Melendez, a government contractor, and Robert Koehler were arrested because of emails sent from a government-issued computer, police said.
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By Tim Fitzsimons

A federal contractor and another man were arrested this week on drug charges as they attempted to board an Atlantis Events gay cruise in Miami.

Peter MelendezMiami Dade Police Department

Peter Melendez and Robert Koehler, both of Washington, D.C., were charged with conspiracy to traffic in illegal drugs and trafficking in illegal drugs, according to a report from the Miami-Dade Police Department.

The arrest reports did not name the ship and cruise the men were attempting to board Sunday, but sources on board Atlantis’ cruise confirmed the two men were planning to attend the Allure Caribbean Cruise, which is currently sailing the Caribbean Sea.

Robert KoehlerMiami Dade Police Department

A drug-sniffing dog found 27 grams of MDMA, 18 grams of ketamine, 246 grams of GHB, 7 grams of Viagra and 5 grams of Adderall in their luggage, according to the police report. The men were arrested in part because the government intercepted emails sent from Melendez’s work computer, in which he discussed plans to smuggle and distribute the drugs once on board, the report said. Melendez is a contractor for the U.S. government.

Atlantis Event’s Allure Caribbean Cruise is billed as the world’s largest all-gay cruise. This is not the first time Atlantis, which operates “all-gay” cruises around the world, has faced drug-related incidents on its cruises. In 2011, Steven Krumholz was arrested on an Atlantis cruise for possessing methamphetamine, ecstasy, ketamine and over $50,000 in cash.

Just last year, Joel Taylor, a star on the Discovery series Storm Chasers, died from a drug overdose on an Atlantis cruise. Taylor reportedly overdosed from a combination of MDMA and other drugs. According to Cruise Law News, at least two other passengers on Atlantis cruises died in unexplained circumstances in 2009 and 2010.

LGBTQ advocates have spoken out about drug use aboard Atlantis cruises. Jim Key, a former official at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, wrote an open letter to Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley last year, saying that while the cruise ship bans alcohol and drugs from passenger luggage, “people will always find a way to bring party drugs onboard and the likelihood of drug use increases exponentially when the ship’s itinerary includes all-night dance parties, as the Atlantis cruises always do.”

“If three people had died from drug overdoses at a nightclub on land, that club would be shut down, but on Atlantis-chartered ships,” Key wrote, “the parties continue and the number of deaths keep growing.”

Key called for greater efforts at “harm reduction” — a strategy that the Drug Policy Alliance describes as “a set of ideas and interventions that seek to reduce the harms associated with both drug use and ineffective, racialized drug policies.”

Two common harm reduction strategies centered around dance parties like the ones hosted on Atlantis Cruise involve testing drugs like MDMA for impurities, and staffing all-night parties with medical professionals who can provide nonjudgmental healthcare to people who may overdose on drugs.

Requests for comment from Atlantis Events were not immediately answered.

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Tim Fitzsimons

Tim Fitzsimons reports on LGBTQ news for NBC Out.