Pilgrimage to Hell 
by Christine Lynch
Picture to yourself a "dream holiday" on a cruise ship.  Then imagine becoming the victim of a crime.  Could the dream turn into any worse nightmare than if you were told to leave the cruise ship, while the perpetrator (a staff member) remained free?
 
Such was my case.  I am a 48-year-old Irish woman.  My 80-year-old mother and I on Oct. 7, 2011, boarded Royal Caribbean's "Vision of the Seas for a voyage.  Three days later, while the ship was at port in Haifa, Israel, we two were at the Poolside Bar. I was given a drugged drink by a member of the staff, whose name I have.
 
I am certain that this is what happened.  I am not a novice to alcohol, and at the time most of the passengers were on shore.  Nobody was near us when I ordered our drinks, and we took them to the lounge chairs around the pool.  At the time that area, too, was nearly deserted.
 
My mother said that after a few sips of my drink, I became incoherent and was slurring my words.  By the time I finished it, I was feeling very ill and realized that I had been drugged.  She, too, was not feeling well ... it may be that she was drugged as well ... and so neither of us thought at the time to go to the ship's medical center.  Fortunately, she never left my side for a moment.  We managed to get back to our cabin; the rest of the evening remains a blur to me, but my mother has told me that I just kept on repeating my words.
 
The next morning I reported to ship security where I completed an Official incident Form.  Security provided me with a pencil for the form, not a pen and from that time on I had to act with extreme caution.  My mother and I went to the medical centre where I had my blood tested.  I tested positive for benzodiazepines and, even though I knew I had been drugged, I was shocked and burst into tears.  The doctor phoned me in my stateroom later that afternoon and said that the head of security had told him that I was out for money. Security and shipboard officers tried to discredit my story and were aggressively hostile during the next 24 hours..  My mother and I remained as cool and courteous as possible.  

Then, when the ship docked at Ashdod, Israel, Royal Caribbean officials tried to force us off the ship.  The Hotel Director had requested a meeting with me but, when I arrived in his office, several shipboard officers were there: chief of security, staff captain and a customer services manager.  They couldn't have made their skepticism and distrust of my story more obvious.  The hotel director talked and talked, but showed no interest in my well-being or my version of events.  I said, explicitly, that I had no interest in suing Royal Caribbean; my concern was only to promote the safety of other passengers, and that I assumed that to be the concern of the officials as well.  He expressed annoyance at my making photocopies of my 'Official Incident Form,' and charged me with wanting to hand them out to other passengers.  I replied that I had made only two copies, and that my action reflected my distrust in the ability or interest of ship security to protect me.  I also pointed out that the British Embassy, in Tel Aviv, had recommended that I inform other passengers of what had happened.  
 
The hotel director then said that the chief of security was there to protect Royal Caribbean!  The company, not the passengers!  When I disagreed, saying his job was to protect passengers, the hotel director asked me "Don't you feel safe on this ship?"  I vehemently said that I did not.  He then suggested that perhaps I should leave, and I replied that perhaps I should.  He then asked me if I wanted Royal Caribbean to organize things on shore with Israeli immigration and so forth, and I said that I wanted nothing from Royal Caribbean.
 
As I left the room, I thought that perhaps I had spoken too quickly, so I turned around and said, "I don't think I will leave the ship after all.  To which he replied, shouting, "You are going!"  I asked, "Are you throwing me off the ship?"  He yelled, while standing up: "Get off this ship!" 

Security came to our cabin and watched while we packed.  As we were escorted through the ship my 80 year old mother starting crying and crying... deep sobs.  Her face went bright red and she suffers from high blood pressure I was terrified that she would have a heart attack.  I started crying too.. we were in great distress and shock. Security escorted us down the gangplank and left us on shore with no interest shown as to what we would do next and no idea where to go.  The Israeli port official said that a taxi had been organized to take us to Tel Aviv and a hotel had been booked  in Tel Aviv for us.  But who had booked the taxi?  who was the taxi driver?  At this stage I was very frightened for myself and my 80 year old mother – almost anything seemed possible.    I told the Ashdod port official that the Irish Embassy had told us to go to the Ashdod police force (and not the police in Tel Aviv).

  I should point out that I have multiple sclerosis, and that, as I said before, my mother is 80.  Both of us have medical problems. Yet the cruise ship staff forced us off the ship and were prepared to leave us in a foreign country, at night, with no friends to contact, no idea what to do next, and no financial assistance.
 
The dockside was bleak and dark; the gangplank had been retracted, the engines were turning over, one side of the entrance gates was closed, and the ship was preparing to leave port when, the Israeli officials decided to refuse to admit us into the country.  So the ship had to take us back on board.  

The next day, Captain Laurentzin met with us and promised a full enquiry but we have yet to hear of any investigation whatsoever.  Despite meeting the Captain we spent the next few days watching our backs – watching our food and not walking on the decks at all and certainly not near any railings (this was on the advice of our friend, an American passenger).
 
When we arrived back home, we contacted the head U.K. office of Royal Caribbean in London and told them of our experience.  Their response, as a "gesture of good will," was to offer 250 pounds sterling in tokens toward the cost of a future cruise.  I don't think we will take them up on their offer.  I had to take out a loan to afford this "dream holiday," and am still paying it off.  I even had to pay for the drink with which I was drugged.
 
I have no doubt that, had I been alone, I would have been taken off the deck, raped, and possibly killed.  I know that I am more fortunate than some cruise ship victims, to whom this has happened.  But that knowledge does not change the fact that my "dream holiday," through no fault of my own, became a nightmare.

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