Opinion: The Owners of Cruise Ships Must Act If Atlantic Cruises Won’t

Storm Chasers, Atlantis Cruises
‘Storm Chasers’ star Joel Taylor

The letter below was written by Jim Key, the former chief marketing officer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, regarding the recent death of “Storm Chasers” star Joel Taylor on a gay cruise organized by West Hollywood-headquartered Atlantis Events on a ship owned by Royal Caribbean.

Michael Bayley, President
Royal Caribbean International

January 29, 2018

Dear Mr. Bayley:

Since Atlantis Events refuses to take responsibility to protect the lives of passengers on Royal Caribbean-chartered and operated ships, you-and the heads of other cruise lines that do business with Atlantis-must take action.

The tragic death last week of Discovery Channel’s Joel Taylor on your Harmony of the Seas wasn’t the first death on an Atlantis cruise resulting from an accidental overdose of party drugs. In recent years, at least two other people on Royal Caribbean ships-and perhaps many more-have died similarly. One of them was my friend Spencer Yu, in 2009.

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

While I served as chief marketing officer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, our chief of staff and I met with Atlantis Events president Rich Campbell to suggest ways to protect other passengers from Spencer’s fate. The Center had occasionally promoted Atlantis vacations in exchange for cruise packages donated to us for silent auctions.

We asked Mr. Campbell to ensure your ship’s medical staff had the necessary experience to care for passengers who had accidentally overdosed or to bring along medical personnel who do. It’s very common for promoters of all-night circuit-type parties to have emergency medical staff onsite to treat people suffering from drug reactions.

I was stunned when he refused our request, saying “that’s news to me” in regard to my comments about the wide use of drugs on his cruises. We were prepared with a number of recommendations to help protect passengers, but by refusing to even acknowledge the truth, he had no interest in hearing our suggestions.

We also asked him to make condoms more accessible on his cruises, since the gift shop that sells them is closed when the dance parties end. We even offered to give condoms to him for free if he’d have them placed in cabins when they’re cleaned. Again, he refused, citing concerns about how that would be perceived by guests. After that meeting, the Center made the decision to never again have a business relationship with Atlantis.

I’m certain your passenger contracts prohibit drug use; you don’t even allow people to bring their own alcohol on your ships. The reality, however, is that 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. So there should have been little surprise when a friend of Mr. Campbell’s was arrested on your Allure of the Seas in 2011 for dealing drugs.

Prior to Spencer’s death, I’d been on three Atlantis cruises and had wonderful experiences on them, as have tens of thousands of others. They offer gay people from all over the world an incredible escape where they’re free from even the fear of discrimination, where they can be themselves, and where they’re the majority, surrounded by fun, like-minded people on spectacular ships sailing to beautiful destinations. Unfortunately, the cruises are also the perfect storm for potential tragedy.

At dance clubs on land, people can only bring with them whatever drugs they’re able to conceal on their person, to avoid detection by security staff. There are first-aid stations nearby and revelers must be sober enough to get home when the party ends. On cruises, where there are no security personnel, people are able to quickly go back and forth to their cabin during parties, night after night, increasing the likelihood they’ll take more drugs than their bodies can handle. And when that happens, there are no nearby hospitals.

Unfortunately, the man who profits from his passengers has little regard for their well-being and simply punts to your P.R. department questions from the media about the deaths of guests, hoping to remain in the shadows and to dodge any culpability. So if Royal Caribbean continues to operate ships for Atlantis, you — and the head of Holland America and other cruise lines chartered by his company —
must take action to prevent any more needless deaths. If you remain complicit, you’ll have on your hands the blood of those who die on future cruises.

Your medical staff must have experience treating guests who have overdosed. Passengers must know how to recognize the signs someone has overdosed and how to quickly get them the treatment they need, without fear of prosecution or discrimination. And finally, condoms should be available at all hours of the day, just as they would be on land.

I look forward to your reply.


Jim Key

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