July 22, 2002
It was supposed to be a honeymoon for a newlywed couple and an all-around family vacation, but disputes over bees and carbon-dioxide gas tanks kept the Afkhami family of Gaithersburg from enjoying their planned cruise.
Now the family is suing Carnival Cruise Lines, claiming racial discrimination after Carnival removed them from two of its ships.
"We are very frustrated," said Farbod Afkhami, one of the six plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed July 2 against the world's largest cruise line. "We are going after [Carnival] for sure, even if that means to the Florida Supreme Court."
The family said they were denied passage on the ships because of their Arab heritage, though all became U.S. citizens since leaving Iran in 1984, said the family's attorney, Anthony Fatemi.
On Jan. 6, the Afkhami family drove to the Port of Miami from Maryland to take their seven-day Western Caribbean cruise on Carnival's Victory ship, Mr. Fatemi said.
The trouble started when ship officials removed the family for having roughly 160 honeybees in their luggage. Mr. Afkhami, 31, an engineer, said he and his sister, Anahita Afkhami, 41, a bank associate, have multiple sclerosis and use the venom from bees as a treatment.
"It was obvious that the younger Afkhamis had disabilities and were in wheelchairs that would show the people at the gate they used the bees for medicinal purposes," said Mr. Fatemi, who asked to speak for the family.
Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Tim Gallagher said the family was displaying "suspicious activity" before the bees were found. "The family was making multiple exits and re-entries onto the ship that made us suspicious," he said. "They also tried to smuggle 160 bees on board without our knowledge or consent."
Mr. Gallagher said the lawsuit, which is being amended, will not have any effect on the Miami company and is "without merit."
Mr. Fatemi said the family notified officials at the gate, though he did not know whether anyone tried to alert Carnival officials before they reached the port.
Mr. Afkhami said he and his wife, Shabanz Teherkhanl, 24, remained in the two cabins with his sister, their parents, Ali, 72, and Fatemeh, 61, who are retired, and their brother, Mehran, 41, who is mentally disabled.
Mr. Gallagher said electronic security cards issued to all passengers documented the entries and exits of family members. He said it was the first time anyone had tried bringing bees on board a ship and that the insects were not permitted, regardless of medical use, because of agricultural laws and liability issues.
Florida's agriculture department concluded they were normal honeybees and not African or killer bees, spokesman Laurence Cutts said.
John Richert, professor of neurology at Georgetown University, said the use of bee venom "offers scientifically no real benefit to patients" and "is a mistake for somebody who has chosen to use FDA-approved remedies and looks to it as a better treatment."
After the disembarkment, the family purchased tickets for the Imagination ship that was leaving from Miami the next day. Mr. Afkhami said the family was reimbursed "maybe 5 percent of the first ship ticket" that ended up totaling more than $7,000.
This time, they left the bees on shore but were confronted by officials for having pressurized gas tanks, often used to keep carbonated drinks, outside their cabins, Mr. Fatemi said.
"We believe that the officials placed the family's luggage tags on these tanks as a pretext of getting them off the ship," Mr. Fatemi said.
During Carnival's in-house legal counsel session concerning the lawsuit, Mr. Fatemi said, Carnival conceded that the gas tanks belonged to a restaurant on the ship but refused to say how they got among the luggage or why the family's tags were on them.
Mr. Gallagher said he had not heard the legal counsel's acknowledgement and couldn't confirm it.
After talking with Carnival officials, the Afkhami family left the ship
and drove back to Maryland.
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