Taking a cruise this summer? Here’s everything you need to know about cruise ship disappearances.
A man vanished during his honeymoon, never to be seen again. Investigators found bloodstains in his cabin and more streaks of blood down the side of the ship.
When a woman traveling with relatives didn’t return to the cabin as planned, her travel companions assumed she was out enjoying herself. Only as the ship neared the final destination of the cruise did they realize she was missing. Back home, her apartment had been burglarized.
It took the mysterious discovery of their shoes left abandoned on the deck for relatives to realize that an elderly couple married 50 years was nowhere to be found.
A woman disappeared just two days into a week-long cruise, but the cruise line neglected to alert her family – instead, it donated her possessions.
A young crew member was last seen having a distressing phone conversation. Then, suddenly, she was gone.
These are just a few of the more than 250 people Cruise Junkie says have vanished onboard cruise ships in the past two decades. Already, this year alone has seen another 12 incidents –putting 2015 on track to surpass the annual average of 19 to 20 “man overboard” events.
Without a Trace?
It’s as tragic as it is unbelievable that many of these individuals who disappear or go overboard are not saved. Sometimes search and rescue missions bring back their remains, so their families can at least get some closure and give them a proper funeral or memorial service.
In too many cases, though, even extensive searches come up empty. Bodies are never found. There may be clues left behind – bloodstains, shoes and remnants of clothing, scraps of video surveillance footage that often raise more questions than they answer.
Every cruise passenger and crew member who has disappeared has a story, and every single one should be heard. Often, sharing the story is the only chance the family members of the missing have of ever getting answers. This is just one of the hundreds of stories of the missing. You can find more of their stories at International Cruise Victims.
A Deadly Honeymoon
George Smith IV was 26 when he married Jennifer Hagel in June 2005. The Greenwich, CT, man and his new bride took a two-week Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. On the evening of July 4th, as the ship sailed the waters between Greece and Turkey, the couple apparently got separated in the onboard casino. Jennifer “would later say she had no recollection of the events of that night,” The Greenwich Post reported.
George Smith disappeared from the Brilliance of the Seas, above, a decade ago – but the cruise ship is still in service today. Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license).
Investigators know some of the facts surrounding the disappearance – enough, at least, to lead them to suspect foul play. Yet in the decade since George disappeared, his family has yet to see anyone face justice for the presumed murder.
They know that four men, Josh Askin, Rusty Kofman, Gregory Rozenberg, and Zachary Rozenberg, walked George to his cabin that night, The Greenwich Post reported.
They know that neighbors heard what sounded like an argument, after which they recalled seeing only three individuals leave the cabin. Those same neighbors remembered hearing the noises of cupboards closing, furniture moving, and finally – around 4:30 in the morning on July 5 – what they described in The Greenwich Post as a “large, horrific thud.”
The morning of July 5th, a teenage passenger taking photographs from her balcony captured a disturbing detail: “a huge bloody stain on the lifeboat canopy,” The Greenwich Post reported. More blood was found on the bedsheets in George’s cabin.
Then there’s the video footage. Not of the presumed murder, but of three of men who had walked George to his cabin that night “commenting about George’s death in a very callous way,” according to The Greenwich Post. On tape, the men joke about George’s assumed wealth. One comments about “George going ‘parachute riding’ off his balcony.” And one ends the tape with the words, “Told ya I was gangsta” – “almost as if he’s bragging about having done something to George,” the Smith family’s attorney characterized the statement.
Last year, CBS’s 48 Hours aired the story on television, and George’s family offered a $100,000 reward for information. The prevailing theory is that George died as a result of a robbery. More details about the disappearance of George Smith can be found on the CBS News website.
Where Did They Go?
When a passenger or crew member vanishes, where do they go? Even the most massive ships are finite spaces. It should be easy to find a missing person if they’re still on the boat – or, if something unfortunate or even sinister happened, to find evidence. Yet too often, searches on the ship, and in the ocean, turn up nothing. No one is ever charged. Justice is never served.
For loved ones of the missing, not knowing what happened means never getting closure. Photo Credit: Pixabay (public domain).
Sometimes foul play is suspected, but evidence is hard to come by. Other times, families receive unsatisfactory answers – reports of unlikely suicides or implausible “man overboard” accidents – or no answers at all. These cases can remain “under investigation” for years, and the families of the missing receive precious little information. There have been rumored cover-ups and conspiracies, unsubstantiated reports of strangers seeing victims in far-off places, and persons of interest who later inexplicably vanish themselves.
4 Crucial Cruise Safety Tips
If you’re planning to take a cruise, knowing the risks is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself. You don’t have to be paranoid, but you do need to know the risks.
People on cruise ships go missing. They get robbed, and sometimes physically harmed in the process. They suffer physical and sexual assaults. For you, this cruise is a vacation – but for some predators out there, a cruise is little more than a new crop of unsuspecting people to victimize.
- Don’t leave drinks unattended. Victims have been known to be drugged so the perpetrators could more easily commit the crimes. Protect yourself by watching your drinks to make sure no one tampers with them.
- Use a buddy system. Avoid walking alone. Sure, you could make plans to meet up with your group later on, but that won’t keep you safe in the meantime. By the time you miss the meeting and your travel companions realize something is wrong, it could be too late.
- Keep valuables in the safe, not on your person, unless you really need them. Don’t unnecessarily “flash money.” It’s thought that the wrong people having the perception that George Smith had money – whether or not there was, in fact, money to steal – led to his death.
- Stay away from the edge. Many cruise ship disappearances are dismissed as accidents early on – even when there are details that could suggest foul play. Be aware that accidental “man overboard” situations can happen, even with protective railings and walls around the ship.
While the technology to alert operators of passengers falling overboard exists, cruise ships aren’t legally required to have these sensors and alarm systems, Travel Weekly reported. Instead, many ships just use video monitors – which makes it possible that a fall, jump, or push overboard will only be noticed after the victim is already reported missing (and possibly, too late to help them).
You’re Not in Jersey Anymore
If something happened to you or a family member while on a cruise, what would you do? You might be surprised to learn that your legal options are more limited than you might think.
“When you step on board a cruise ship you are stepping onto foreign soil,” a former cruise ship crewmember who suffered a sexual assault onboard warned on Cruise Junkie. Would a United States entity step in to investigate a crime against you or your family, or would that investigation fall to the coast guard, the government of the nearest port city, or a foreign country under whose flag the cruise ship sails?
Too often, even the cruise ship industry professionals and local law enforcement agencies don’t know the answer when it comes to individual cases. It’s one of the reasons that families receive the runaround and investigations are delayed.
As if this question about who’s responsible for investigations isn’t enough of a problem, there’s also the question of which court system will handle the legal cases. Often, the fine print on your cruise tickets limits where and even if you can go to trial. Are your legal options limited to arbitration? Will you have to pursue the case in Florida, even if you live in New Jersey? Most cruise ship passengers honestly don’t know – and they’ll only find out if and when it’s too late.
If you’re planning a cruise, know the risks before you go. Be aware of what legal rights you agree to sign away and what the implications might be if something unthinkable happened, like a boating accident or the sudden disappearance of a travel companion. Most importantly, follow safety tips to protect yourself and your family. You may not be able to control dangerous individuals or conditions on the ship, but you can take steps to make yourself less likely to become a victim.