Thursday, April 24, 2003

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard sequestered the cruise ship Legend of the Seas yesterday while a multiagency team boarded the vessel to conduct an investigation. The sweep involved 32 federal, state and local agencies, including the FBI, Coast Guard and HPD. Found in a restroom Tuesday were two threatening notes which FBI Special Agent in Charge Daniel Dzilewski said contained nonspecific threats to the ship, its crew and passengers.

Cruise ship sets sail
for Big Isle

Letters found aboard the Legend
of the Seas prompted a sweep

A cruise ship that was diverted to Honolulu after two threatening notes were found in a ladies restroom was allowed to depart for the Big Island early this morning, the Coast Guard said.

Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas headed for Kailua-Kona after the order keeping it anchored a mile south of Honolulu was lifted at 12:55 a.m., said Petty Officer Lauren Smith.

The cruise ship was bound for Hilo when it was diverted to waters off Honolulu yesterday afternoon. Officials from the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force -- including investigators from the Honolulu Police Department, Coast Guard, immigration, customs and other agencies -- boarded the ship to conduct security sweeps.

"They found nothing," Miami-based Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Lynn Martenstein said this morning. "Nothing that indicates the threat was credible."

The two anonymous handwritten notes contained vague threats against the ship, its passengers and its crew, said Daniel Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI's Honolulu office.

"It didn't articulate any means or method by which the threat would be carried out," he said.

Dzwilewski would not reveal the specific wording in the handwritten notes, saying, "I don't want to overalarm anyone."

The notes were found separately by a passenger and a maintenance staff member sometime late Tuesday while the ship was en route from Ensenada, Mexico.

Dzwilewski said it was not certain if both letters appeared to come from the same source, though the handwriting would eventually be analyzed.

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Dzwilewski indicated that passengers were restricted to an area of the boat perceived to be safe, though he offered no further details.

Security sweeps for bombs or other threats were conducted and officials questioned the estimated 2,500 passengers and crew members, Dzwilewski said.

Martenstein said there was no mention of a bomb or other explosive device in the notes.

Royal Caribbean officials do not believe the threats were credible, but agreed with the decision to divert to Honolulu, she said.

The diversion from Hilo was a nuisance for some passengers.

Michelle Stottlemire, 28, of Topeka, Kan., said her sister, Crystal Unruh, was aboard the ship to attend a wedding. The minister was to board in Hilo on Wednesday to perform the ceremony.

"She wasn't panicking but she was taking it seriously," said Stottlemire, whose mother was reached by Unruh by phone Wednesday afternoon.

There are 2,369 people aboard the ship, 1,668 passengers and 701 crew members. Passengers include people from Hawaii, California and Mexico, Dzwilewski said.

The ship was on a 10-night cruise that departed Ensenada, Mexico, on Friday and was expected to conclude in Honolulu Monday after visiting the Big Island, Maui and Kauai. It was scheduled to arrive in Hilo at 7 a.m. yesterday.

Associated Press contributed to this report


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