The press in the U.S. and in the U.K. are continuing to cover the story of the disappearance of a Disney Cruise Line youth counselor who apparently went overboard from the Wonder last Tuesday during a 7 day "Mexican Riviera" cruise. BBC News reports that the parents of Rebecca Coriam flew from the U.K. to be present when the cruise ship returns to Los Angeles.
In our article yesterday, we were very critical of the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) for being either disinterested in passenger and crew member deaths or being beholden to the cruise line's interests. In 2005, we were involved in one of the highest profile cruise ship disappearances when U.S. passenger George Smith disappeared during his honeymoon with his wife while aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas. We represented Mr. Smith's wife.
The BMA was suppose to be involved in the investigation because like the Wonder, the Brilliance is flagged in the Bahamas. However, the BMA did nothing as far as we could tell. It appeared to be satisfied with receiving the casualty report from the cruise line speculating that Mr. Smith was intoxicated and may have fallen over the railing, a quick and self-serving conclusion which became questionable once we began our investigation and retained the renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee to assist us. To our knowledge, the BMA did not even prepare a report.
In this case, it is reported that the BMA sent investigators to Cabo San Lucas yesterday. Tomorrow the cruise ship will return to Los Angeles where Ms. Coriam's parents will be waiting.
As we explained yesterday, trusting that the BMA will perform an energetic, fair and impartial investigation, or relying on the transparency and honesty of a foreign flagged cruise line, are naive and inherently risky propositions. Any family seeking answers under these circumstances should consider retaining their own experienced investigators like Ken Carver, the President of the International Cruise Victims, did following the mysterious disappearance of his daughter during an Alaskan cruise.
There are a number of issues which the cruise line has already focused on. it is prudent that certain information be reviewed as soon as possible by someone other than the cruise line or the BMA.
CCTV: There should be closed circuit television images of the crew member indicating when she was last seen on the ship. When a crew member goes overboard, there should be images of the crew member on a deck and walking around the ship. There should be a review of the location of the CCTV cameras, an inspection of the CCTV / security office and equipment, a review of the diagrams for all CCTV cameras, and a walk-around of the cruise ship from the crew member's cabin, through all connecting hallways, stairs, and elevators, to the upper decks.
Locklink reports / C-Pass cards / Telephone print-outs: All crew members have their "C-Pass" cards swiped by the security guards when they board and exit the cruise ship. This will establish when the crew member last embarked/disembarked. Crew members use electronic cards to enter and exit their cabins. There is a print out (often called lock-link reports) for each cabin, indicating when the doors are opened and who opened the door. Cruise lines can also print out details of when the cabin telephones were used, and who the calls were made to and from on the ship. A time line can be created in correlating the information available from the CCTV, C-Pass, lock-link and telephone print-outs.
Computer / iPhone / Backberry / Android: The crew members computer and hand-held devices contain information when they were last used and when emails, test messages, skype and social media were used.
Cabin mate / co-employees / supervisors / employment records: Cruise lines quickly take statements from the missing crew member's cabin mates, friends, co-workers, and supervisors for relevant information. They review the missing employee's employment records and electronic data. A security officer will take statements and prepare reports.
As we previously explained, although the cruise line's public relations department will state they are cooperating with all authorities, the truth of the matter is that they subsequently assert that the results of their own internal investigations are "legally privileged" and are not to be shared with the missing crew member's family. A request for access to the above described information and access to the ship for an inspection and to co-employees for independent questioning should be made promptly.
If the cruise line resists these reasonable requests, the issue arises whether there is a conflict of interest between the missing crew member's employer and the surviving family members.