Ken Carver Honored for Cruise Safety

Merrian CarverKen Carver, Chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association (ICV), received the Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award from the U.S. Department of Justice during the annual National Crime Victims’ Service Awards ceremony on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Carver founded the ICV after his daughter disappeared from a Celebrity cruise ship during an Alaskan cruise in 2004. In 2006, he formed the ICV which is a grass roots, victim organization of families who have lost loved ones on the high seas or have been victims of sexual assaults and other crimes at sea.  

I remember when I first heard of Mr Carver. In 2005, the Arizona Central newspaper published an article titled Daughter Vanishes While on Alaskan Cruise by Robert Anglen about the disappearance of Mr. Carver's daughter, Merrian Carver, from the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship.

The facts described in the article were bad enough: a Celebrity cabin attendant noticed that Mirrian was missing early in the cruise but when he alerted his supervisors, they told him not to worry about her. In the process, Merrian's clothes and personal effects were quickly disposed of at the end of the cruise.  But the cover-up of the disappearance was even worse: neither the FBI nor local law enforcement officials were notified when there was no sighting of Merrian at the end of the cruise. Celebrity Cruises lied to Mr. Carver about its policies which required it to keep CCTV tapes for at least 30 days; when Mr. Carver asked for tapes within that period, Celebrity falsely told him that none existed. 

The cruise line gave Mr. Carver about as much attention and respect as someone complaining about losing a piece of luggage during a cruise. He told the Arizona Central: "We've learned that if something Ken Carver - International Cruise Victimshappens on a cruise, you are on your own," he says, choking back sobs. "No other parents should ever have to go through the crap we've been through. We don't know if Merrian is alive or dead. We don't know if there was an accident or murder or suicide or something else. . . . It is a very sad story."

After reading the blockbuster article about the terribly sad story, I felt compelled to read first-hand the facts alleged in a lawsuit which Mr. Carver was forced to file to try in Miami-Dade County to try and find out what happened to his daughter. I was also curious which law firm Celebrity Cruises retained to represent it in the lawsuit. 

The clerk requires anyone asking for a copy of a court pleading to fill out paperwork identifying the name and address of the person requesting the file. When I looked at the clerk's forms, I could see the names of the defense lawyers who had previously requested the file and would be involved in the case.

Coincidentally, later in the week, I bumped into these lawyers on the sixth floor of the courthouse while attending a hearing in another case. I mentioned to them: so you guys will be defending the tragic case of the father whose daughter disappeared during the cruise to Alaska?" The lawyers first denied knowing anything about the case, but when I told them that  the clerk information confirmed their involvement, one of the lawyers remarked: that's a bullshit case; we're going to have it dismissed

I'll remember this rude conversation and the defense lawyers' smug attitude for the rest of my life. I recall thinking at the time that this was not going to end well for this cruise line or their heartless defense lawyers. 

Later, during one of many television specials about Merrian's disappearance, one of the defense lawyers said to Chris Cuomo, who was working for ABC News at the time, Merrian probably committed suicide. Of course, there was absolutely no evidence of this, but this didn't stop the defense lawyer from saying it. The smear tactic was clearly the result of the nasty attitude of the cruise line lawyers and their client. But it raised the obvious question that if it was somehow true that Merrian ended her own life, why wouldn't the cruise line simply tell law enforcement and Mr. Carver and timely provide evidence supporting this conclusion? 

I'll also never forget when I first met Mr. Carver. He attended the first Congressional hearing in Washington D.C. before the U.S. Senate on December 13, 2005, following the disappearance of George Smith III from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas. I was representing Mr Smith's wife at the hearing and was seeking information from an equally recalcitrant cruise line. Mr. Carver introduced himself at the hearing, smiled and asked me do you want to help me pass a cruise crime law? 

Quite frankly I didn't know exactly what Mr Carver was talking about. I thought to myself that any kind of law requiring the cruise line to report crimes, an issue the cruise industry always sought to suppress, was unprecedented. 

But a month later Ms. Carver created the ICV. And with the assistance of hundreds of crime victims who joined the ICV, and the convening of several more Congressional hearings addressing crimes and disappearance on cruise ships, Mr. Carver was successful in having Congress enact the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. His proposed legislation, requiring the disclosure of missing Ken Carver ICVpassengers, the reporting of crime on cruise ships, and the requirement for ships to be equipped with rape kits and anti-retorviral medications to automatic man overboard systems, passed the Senate and House on a nearly unanimous basis. 

Mr. Carver's goals were to create transparency in crime and missing passenger reporting and install man overboard systems on cruise ships. The cruise lines fought back vigorously. The cruise industry treated Mr. Carver like a villain and essentially painted a bulls-eye on his back. The cruise lines spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to oppose Mr. Carver's proposed legislation. But ultimately Mr. Carver prevailed.

Over the past dozen years, I've seen dozens of cruise executives and cruise line defense lawyers come and go - as well as PR crisis managers and lobbyists in the cruise industry trade organization. Many have left the industry. But Mr. Carver is still standing. Cruising is safer today because of him.

Have a comment? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Opinion Piece: Don't Join Our Organization This Summer

Don’t Join Our Organization This Summer, by Kendall Carver

More than 10 million Americans will set sail on a cruise vacation in 2016. Many of these travelers will book their trips through U.S.-based travel companies—expecting not only top-notch service, but also safety and accountability in the event of an emergency.

Yet American travelers aren’t guaranteed either: The cruise industry routinely circumvents basic safety Merrian  Carver - International Cruise Victimsprocedures for expediency’s sake, prioritizing profits over people.

I know firsthand. My daughter, Merrian, disappeared from a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska in 2004, yet cruise officials acted like nothing had happened. Merrian’s steward aboard the vessel reported her missing for five days to his supervisor, but was told to “just do your job and forget it.”

That’s right: Royal Caribbean made no attempt to contact either the authorities or Merrian’s family when she turned up missing and had not used her room. Once the cruise line was contacted about Merrian’s disappearance, it took Royal Caribbean three days to confirm that she had even been on the cruise first place. Confirming that Merriam didn’t use her room after the second night onboard took even longer. By then, the trail had gone cold. Requests for interviews by the private investigator hired by our family, were denied, as was access to the ship's video camera system. Cruise officials even limited the amount of time that he could spend on the ship.

Our persistence in the face of negligence revealed a shocking detail: My daughter had been reported missing daily for the last five days of the cruise and nothing was done to search for her. More than a decade later, I still do not know how she died.

Unfortunately, my tragic story is not uncommon. The family of Larry and Christy Hammer—two Americans who lost their lives aboard the Amazon River boat Estrella Amazonica in April—are similarly grasping for answers. Theirs is the most recent demonstration of the cruise industry’s shocking disregard for passengers.

According to reports provided to us by the family, the Hammers were killed by a fire in their cabin. There were smoke detectors but no alarms in the cabins onboard the Estrella Amazonica—a boat proudly designed, built, and co-owned by the U.S.-based travel company International Expeditions Larry and Christy Hammer - International Expeditions (IE), according to the firm’s website. With no alarm to awaken them, the Hammers were overwhelmed as they struggled through the poisonous gases flooding their room. It took the crew more than 20 minutes to extract the Hammers from their burning cabin.

Similar to my family’s quest for answers, the Hammer family has resorted to independent investigators. The likely fire source was a power strip supplied by the boat—which lacked both surge protection and safety and flammability ratings. The fire alarm system and crew’s response to the emergency is also in question.

International Expeditions continues to deny the Hammer family’s pleas for information. Immediately following the incident, Van Perry, IE’s president, rushed to Peru to monitor the ship inspection. Within three days, he declared the ship “cleared as safe for travel” and personally re-boarded passengers onto the boat. When the Hammer family asked Mr. Perry for the supporting basis of his statements, he deflected and refused to provide information. Through interviews with independent investigators, the Hammer family was shocked to later learn that local authorities denied clearing the vessel as safe or having identified the source of the fire.

American travelers who put their trust in travel companies like Royal Caribbean and International Expeditions should tread carefully. Just because they’re based in the United States doesn’t ensure Ken Carver - International Cruise Victimspassenger safety or accountability when tragedy strikes.

To confront the cruise industry’s recurring problem of neglect and indifference, victims’ families organized the International Cruise Victims Association. Members’ tragic stories, posted to the organization’s website, attest to a devastating pattern.

My parting words are “be careful”—or else our organization becomes yours.

Kendall Carver is the chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association.

You can read about the Royal Caribbean cover up of Merrian Carver's disappearance here

Photo Credit:

Merrian Carver (top) and Ken Carver - Ken Carver

Larry and Christy Hammer - Kelly Lankford & Jill Malott via KSHB
 

Founder and CEO of International Cruise Victims Discusses Cruise Line Cover-Ups

Ken Carver - International Cruise VictimsFormer insurance company president, Ken Carver, discusses the disappearance of his daughter, Merrian Carver, from the Celebrity Cruises ship, the Mercury, and the lies and cover-up by the cruise line which followed.

Ken is the founder and the CEO of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) which he formed in 2006 with a few other families who had lost loved ones at sea.  

The ICV is now truly an international organization with members in twenty-four countries around the world.

You can read about Ken and the remarkable story of the ICV here.

The audio can be listened to here.     

Disappearance of George Smith - The International Cruise Victims Organization Is Born!

George Smith Disappearance  In December 2005, Congress convened its first hearing on the issue of the safety of U.S. passengers on foreign flagged cruise ships.  The hearing came about primarily due to the efforts of several families who had lost loved ones from cruise ships on the high seas, under suspicious circumstances. 

George Smith's family was instrumental in bringing a great amount of much needed publicity to the issue of passenger "disappearances" and the shoddy manner in which cruise lines respond to such tragedies.  George III and Maureen Smith and their daughter Bree Smith of Greenwich Connecticut contacted Congressman, Chris Shays (R-CT).   

The Smith family joined forces with the father of a young woman who also "disappeared" from a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean's sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises.  Ken Carver, a former president of an insurance company in New York, lost his beloved daughter, 40 year old Boston resident Merrian Carver, who went missing under suspicious circumstances during a cruise to Alaska aboard the Mercury cruise ship.  

The cruise line tried its best to cover the incident up.  It didn’t report Merrian missing to either the FBI or the Alaskan State Troopers, even though the cabin attendant reported her missing early in the cruise. The cruise line either gave her personal items away or put them in storage. 

When Mr. Carver asked for an explanation, Royal Caribbean responded by lying to Mr. Carver and disposing of evidence.  Mr. Carver didn’t go away.  The story went public.  The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story, revealing the hideous manner that this cruise line acted when people disappear at sea. 

Mr. Carver's situation is simply the worst conduct I have ever seen by a cruise line.

One of Mr. Carver's daughters had been an intern of Congressman Shays when Mr. Carver had lived in Connecticut.  Mr. Carver's story was featured on CNN's Anderson Cooper's show.  The  producer for the program, CNN's David Fitzpatrick (a resident of Connecticut), recommended to Mr. Carver that he call on Congressman Shays and tell him about the way the cruise line treated his family. 

Ken Carver - International Cruise VictimsAs a result of the convergence of tragedies suffered by the families of George Smith and Merrian Carver, Congressman Shays convened a hearing to study the problem of passengers disappearing on cruise ships and the manner that the cruise industry treated the surviving the surviving family members.  He opened the hearing by stating:

"The bottom line is we are suspicious, candidly, that there's some huge problem in the cruise industry.  We think that people are not aware of some of the challenges and some of the potential problems they encounter."   

Mr. Carver attended the December 2005 hearing.  I attended the hearing with my client Jennifer Hagel.  Mr. Carver introduced himself to me at the hearing.  He asked me if I was interested in supporting legislation making cruising safer for the public?  I saw a conviction in Mr. Carver's eyes six years ago.  I realized that he was serious.  

Mr. Carver realized that he could not fight the cruise industry alone.  He thereafter created an organization called the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, effective January 1, 2006.   As a former executive, Mr. Carver had the leadership and management skills to create a highly effective organization.  Like the many other ICV members, Mr. Carver also had a passionate dedication to his daughter and a desire to protect other families from going through a similar nightmare. 

Mr. Carver was responsible for convening four additional Congressional hearings, taking the ICV organization internationally, and organizing a team of victims who were responsible for the enactment of the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

George Smith, Merrian Carver and other victims may be gone from this lifetime, as we know it.  But their legacies continue today. 

The cruising public is safer for the efforts of their families.  

 

This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later.  Do you have information which may solve this case?   Please let us hear from you. 

Cruise Lines Often Don't Report Crimes

A local ABC affiliate in Boston WCVB TV5 recently aired a special investigation into the issue of cruise ship crime: "Crimes On Cruise Ships Often Not Reported - Local Victims Hope Laws At Sea Change."

The ABC affiliate accurately concludes that cruise lines are not required to report crimes on cruise ships in international waters.  The consequences of having no legal obligation to report a crime means that there is no consequence when the cruise line does not report the crime - such as in the case of Merrian Carver.  

Ms. Carver "disappeared" from the Mercury cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean's subsidiary Celebrity Cruises.  But Royal Caribbean did not report her missing and tried to cover the incident up.  ABC PrimeTime aired a special on this disturbing case "Cruise Cover Up - Cruise Line Doesn't Notify Anyone When Woman Disappears On Second Day of Tour."  

We have written many articles about the cover up by Royal Caribbean, and the fight by Ms. Carver's Angela Orlich - Sexual Assault - Cruise Victimfather Ken Carver who continues to advocate for the safety of cruise passengers and demand transparency by the foreign flagged cruise industry.     

The ABC TV5 investigation also focused on the story of our firm client, cruise passenger Angela Orlich, who was sexually assaulted during a diving excursion while on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  The program also touches upon the well known case of George Smith IV who died during his honeymoon cruise on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas.  We represented Mr. Smith's widow, Jennifer Hagel.

After the story aired, the cruise industry's trade group, the notorious Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), complained on the station's web page that the story was "inaccurate."  CLIA George Smith IV - Missing - Cruise Victimclaimed that the story misled the public because U.S. law allegedly "requires cruise lines to report allegations of crime involving U.S. citizens no matter where the ship is in the world."  This is not true.  CLIA has no credibility and earned a reputation for bogus statements like this long ago.  Take a moment and read "Cruise Line Pravda" or learn about CLIA's dubious cast of characters here

In truth, there is absolutely no law requiring cruise lines to report crimes outside of 12 miles from shore.  

It also telling that CLIA took the time to complain about the news program, but didn't bother to apologize to Ms. Orlich or express sympathy to the parents of Ms. Carver and Mr. Smith who lost a child during a CLIA cruise. 

Unfortunately, such dishonesty and insensitivity characterizes CLIA and the cruise industry. 

 

 

 

 

Credits:

Video           ABC affiliate in Boston WCVB TV5

Ken Carver Pushes For Cruise Law After Daughter "Disappears" From Celebrity's Mercury Cruise Ship

A local news station in Phoenix, Arizona,  ABC-15 (KNXV), is reporting on the latest efforts by Kendall Carver to protect families who cruise in international waters.

In a video interview entitled "Valley Man Pushes for New Laws after Daughter Vanishes,"  Mr. Carver explains that his 40-year-old vanished on the second day of a seven-day Alaskan cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises' Mercury cruise ship back in 2004.  The cruise ship covered the incident Merrian Carver - Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship - Disappearance up and then lied to Mr. Carver.

ABC-15 reports that for more than a year, Mr. Carver says the cruise line "provided little information.  He hired private detectives, lawyers and spent quite a bit of money searching for any indication as to what happened.  Eventually, he said they found an employee on the boat who had some information."

"We deposed the steward to find out that he had reported our daughter missing daily for five days on that ship and his supervisor told him to forget it and do his job," said Carver.  "They had not notified the FBI, they had not notified anybody, in fact, they gathered her belongings and got rid of them."

Carver says what many people may not know is that the cruise ship industry doesn't even have to report crimes ranging from theft to a disappearance.

"You can get the crime report for any city in the country, by zip code, by name, but you can't get that for cruise ships," Mr. Carver told ABC-15.

To push for new laws and help victims of cruise ship crimes, Carver formed the organization - International Cruise Victims (ICV).  He has been working on this cause everyday for the past five years.

"We have hundreds of volunteers, with next to no money and as of this week we are now in 20 countries around the world," said Carver.  "It's one of those things as a father I couldn't walk away from, I still want answers and people need to know what's going on."

As a result of the ICV's efforts, a cruise law - called the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009 - passed the House of Representatives last year.  The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate this year.

"This would make it mandatory that they immediately advise the FBI," said Carver.  "They (travelers) don't realize when they get onto these ships they're going into a foreign country."

To learn more, read about the story of Merrian Carver on the ICV website. Please consider joining  the ICV and making a small donation to keep the grass root organization operating.

The ABC-15 video with Mr. Carver is below:

 

 

For additional information about Ken's fight to protect the cruising public, consider reading:

Family Wins Battle Against Cruise Ship Industry After Daughter's Disappearance

 

 

Credits:

Photograph of Mirrian Carver        Ken Carver  

Video        ABC-15 (KNXV) Phoenix, AZ  (Christopher Sign reporting)

Prayer Garden Statue Dedicated to Merrian Carver

Merrian Carver - Prayer GardenThe Paradise Valley United Methodist Church in Arizona dedicated a bronze statue in remembrance of Merrian Carver, the daughter of Carol Carver and International Cruise Victims president Ken Carver.

We have written about Merrian's "disappearance" in 2004 during a cruise to Alaska, and Mr. Carver's five year battle to reform the cruise industry: 

Ken Carver Fights for Cruise Ship Safety 

Family Wins Battle Against Cruise Ship Industry After Daughter's Disappearance

The local newspaper in Paradise Valley, the Town of Paradise Valley Independent, ran a story about the dedication entitled "Paradise Valley Church Members Dedicate Statue."  The statute is called the "Gift of Life" based on a poem written by Merrian called "The Butterfly."

Senator Kyl from Arizona and Congresswoman Matsui from California submitted letters of thanks and recognition for the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Carver and the International Cruise Victims for working to improve the safety of the cruising public. 

Congresswoman Matsui who introduced the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009, wrote:

The beautiful bronze statue being dedicated today, depicting a young woman, book in hand, enables Merrian's spirit to live forever in this picturesque garden outside of the church that was such an integral part of her life . . . 

Prayer Garden - Merrian CarverI want to take this opportunity to not only congratulate you on the completion of this monument, but also to recognize the tremendous efforts of those who have been personally impacted by crimes committed on cruise vessels.  Despite facing insurmountable losses, brave men and women have tirelessly worked toward ensuring that other do not have to endure the pain caused by these senseless acts.

As the author of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety act, I admire the strength and unwavering commitment of Ken and Carol Carver and so many other members of the International Cruise Victims Association, who have tirelessly worked as passionate advocates for recent victims and who have so clearly articulated the need for higher safety standards on cruise vessels.  Their stories have captured the eyes, the ears, and the hearts of lawmakers who begun considering legislation intended to ensure the safety and security of all cruise passengers . . .

Ken and Carol Carver - with Bob Scheelings, Scupltor, "Gift of Life"The statue was created by talented artist Bob Scheelings, who is pictured here with Mr. and Mrs. Carver.

At the moment when the stone foundation for Merrian's statue was being laid, Mr. Carver received an email from Washington. 

The communications director and legislative assistant for Congresswoman Matsui announced that the House of Representatives was voting on the cruise safety bill and expected the bill to pass overwhelmingly. 

Mr. Carver was in the prayer garden when he realized that five years of dedication on behalf of his daughter were culminating in the passage of the safety bill to protect other families. 

Those of you of faith know that there are no coincidences like this in life . . .    

 

 

Credits:

Photographs    Courtesy of Carol and Ken Carver

Other photographs are available on my Flickr page - Dedication of Prayer Garden Statue - Merrian Carver. All photographs are courtesy of the Carver family.

Family Wins Battle Against Cruise Ship Industry After Daughter's Disappearance

AF Family.com in Phoenix, Arizona reports on the story of the family of Merrian Carver, a 40 year old who "disappeared" from a cruise ship.  The cruise line, Royal Caribbean, tried to cover the incident Merrian Carver - Cruise Ship "Disappearance"up.  The Carver family fought back. 

And won.

We have commented on the Carver family's struggle and other "disappearances" in a prior article.

ABC News / Primetime published a story on this case called "Cruise Cover-up? - Cruise Line Doesn't Notify Anyone When Woman Disappears On Second Day of Trip."  

The article below was written by Jared Dillingham of AF Family.com.  The video below is from the same source.

PHOENIX -- A Valley family says a cruise ship company covered up their daughter's disappearance a few years ago. But they fought back, and won.

When the family tried to get answers from the cruise line about what happened to their daughter, they found there isn't much oversight in the cruise ship industry. What happens at sea seems to stay at sea. But that's about to change.

On an Alaskan cruise in 2004 Merrian Carver, a 40-year-old investment banker, vanished. Her family in Phoenix called the cruise line.

"[They said] ‘We don’t know whether or not she got off,’” Ken Carver recalled. “That's it."

Equally stunned by Merrian's disappearance and the cruise line's response, the Carver family hired lawyers to try to get some answers, and surveillance video from the ship.

“I finally got them to admit in writing, in fact, they did have a video,” Ken said. “[But] they said they got rid of it.”

Ship staff also got rid of Merrian's clothes and belongings -- all part of what her father calls an attempt to erase any evidence that Merrian was ever on board.

"It's obstruction of justice,” Ken said.

What if the Carvers had never called the cruise line?

“Nothing would've ever happened,” Ken said. “Most people wouldn't have gone to the extent we did.”

From his home office, Ken worked with other cruise victims from around the world, together launching a campaign to bring some law to the high seas. After five years of lobbying Congress, they were successful.

"This will make those cruise ships more accountable and safer,” Congressman John Shadegg said on the floor of the House.

The new legislation will require cruise lines to file crime reports, preserve evidence, have rape kits and U.S. doctors on board, and install more video cameras and peepholes on cabin doors.

"This is an historic development,” Ken said.

And one that's brought the Carvers some peace and satisfaction, even though their daughter's disappearance remains a mystery.

The Carvers say the cruise ship industry spent millions lobbying against the changes. But the new oversight bill just overwhelmingly passed the House and should soon pass the Senate.

 

 

The original article can be viewed here.

For additional information, please go to the website of the International Cruise Victims and read the story of Merrian Carver and other victims.

 

Credits:

Merrian Carver Photo   Ken Carver

Video           AZ Family.com 

Ken Carver Fights for Cruise Ship Safety

A local news station in Phoenix Arizona, KPHO, aired an interview with Ken Carver whose daughter, Merrian, "disappeared" on a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean's subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises.  KPHO's story is entitled "Valley Father Fights For Cruise Ship Safety." 

The video of Mr. Carver's interview can be viewed here.

The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story about Ms. Carver's "disappearance" and the cruise line's attempted cover up. 

Ken Carver - International Cruise VictimsTragedies like this would destroy many parents who lose a child under these disturbing circumstances.  But Mr. Carver channeled his energies into creating the International Cruise Victims ("ICV"), an organization of cruise victims and friends who are fighting for mandatory reforms to the cruise industry.

Mr. Carver, a retired insurance executive, is leading the fight. Two weeks ago the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass the Cruise Security and Safety Act of 2009.  The new safety law will require cruise lines to report crimes to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard and implement other security measures.    

The new law is now awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Carver obtained the support of Senator John Kerry to introduce the cruise safety bill in the U.S. Senate. 

We have reported on the ICV's hard work which led to the passage of this new law in a previous article: "Congress Passes Cruise Crime Law." Are you a member of the ICV?  If not, consider joining.

You can contact Mr. Carver at kcarver17@cox.net

 

Photo credit      KPHO, Phoenix, Arizona

 

 

"Suicide" - One of the Cruise Lines' Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea

For the past many years, I have watched cruise lines respond to each disappearance at sea by blaming the passenger.

Selling Dreams of Carefree Vacations

Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to create the illusion of carefree vacation getaways where hard working Americans can relax, let their guard down, and forget the worries of city life. Passenger "disappearances" are inconsistent with the cruise industry’s marketing image which sells tickets.

When a passenger "disappears," there are a number of possible explanations.  Was foul play involved?  Did the passenger act carelessly due to alcohol?  Was the intoxication due to the cruise line's negligence in over-serving the passenger to make the targeted profits for the cruise?  Or was the disappearance due to a plan by the passenger to end his or her life?   

The possibilities are many but the cruise lines' conclusions are few. Cruise ships are quick to attack the passengers’ character and to steer blame away from themselves when a passenger goes overboard.

Merrian Carver - Royal Caribbean Cover Up, Stonewalling, and the Big Lie

When 40 year old Boston resident Merrian Carver "disappeared" from the cruise ship Mercury operated by Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary brand Celebrity Cruises, the cruise line tried its best to cover the incident up. It didn’t report Merrian missing to either the FBI or the Alaskan State Troopers, even though the cabin attendant reported her missing early in the cruise. Merrian’s Dad, insurance executive Ken Carver, began a serious investigation. Royal Caribbean responded by lying to Mr. Carver and disposing of evidence.  Mr. Carver didn’t go away and the story went public.  The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story.  In response, the cruise line reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a good excuse: " . . . there is very little a cruise line, a resort or a hotel can do to prevent someone from committing suicide." 

Aside of the speculation fueled by the cruise line's lawyers and PR team, there was no competent evidence whatsoever for Royal Caribbean's self serving announcement to the media. If it was a suicide, why did Royal Caribbean work so hard to cover the incident up and lie to Mr. Carver?  Indeed, there is now an issue whether a crew member was involved in Merrian's death.  

George Smith IV - Attack the Victim

I witnessed the same type of corporate thuggery while representing Jennifer Hagel whose husband George Smith of Greenwich Connecticut disappeared under suspicious circumstances during the couple’s honeymoon cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. For months the Hagel and Smith families patiently waited for information explaining the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the healthy and handsome 26 year old man.

But when their frustration forced them to the press for answers, the cruise industry’s response was quick and brutal. Michael Crye, representing the International Council of Cruise Lines ( the predecessor to today’s Cruise Line International Association - "CLIA") told an AP reporter investigating the story " . . . its difficult if someone chooses to do harm to themselves . . ."

Carefully Planned Hit and Run Attacks By Cruise Line PR Departments 

These type of statements are not random or insensitive rants from low level employees. The cruise lines' PR departments carefully craft the announcements and issue them only after being run through their legal departments. The Merrian Carver "suicide" theory was issued by the Royal Caribbean corporate communications director only after being reviewed by the cruise line’s outside legal counsel. When the cruise industry faced embarrassment over Royal Caribbean's mis-handling of George Smith’s death, out trotted Mr. Crye - the vice president of the cruise trade organization and himself a lawyer. Mr. Crye issued the he-did-it-to-himself statement on behalf of the entire cruise industry (CLIA's motto is "one industry - one voice"), without a shred of evidence justifying such a conclusion.

Amber Malkuch - Holland America Lines' Attack Is Business as Usual  

The recent disappearance of Washington resident Amber Malkuch shows that little has changed. Amber was 45 when she sailed on the Holland America Line ("HAL") cruise ship Zaandam. On August 3, 2009, Amber disappeared. The usual protocol when a passenger disappears should be for the FBI or the state law enforcement authorities to board the vessel at the next port and to conduct an investigation. The period of time leading up to the cruise ship's arrival at the next port is critical because the cruise line controls the scene of the disappearance, the witnesses and all of the evidence. Before the authorities can conclude whether the "disappearance" resulted from an accident (due to the ship's negligence, or the passenger's carelessness or intoxication, or a combination of factors), foul play or suicide, they must first review the evidence and interview passengers and crew members.

But on August 4, 2009, before the Alaskan State Troopers concluded their investigation, a member of HAL's PR department and CLIA's PR team, Sally Andrews, announced to the media that Amber probably took her own life. The "suicide" conclusion was picked up by all of the major news outlets and reported prominently on FOX News and other news stations.

This surprised not only Amber’s friends and family, but it dumbfounded the Alaskan State Troopers who had yet to review photographs and video, conduct interviews or analyze toxicology reports. The Anchorage Daily News reported "Troopers Miffed at Cruise Line’s Rush to Judgment." The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted a representative of the Alaskan State Troopers saying:

We’re the people actually looking into the exact cause of death . . . We’re the ones doing the interviews and looking at the evidence . . . And if we haven’t been able to make a determination, how can the cruise line who isn’t trained?"

Who Do You Trust?  The Alaskan State Troopers or the Cruise Line?

Does Holland America Line care about what the evidence reveals?  In the world of cruise line PR (perception vs. reality), what matters most to the cruise lines seems to be the public’s perception that cruise ships are safe rather than the reality that perhaps they are not.

Determining the cause of passenger overboards is the role of experts - the U.S. Coast Guard, the F.B.I., and other law enforcement authorities - not the cruise lines' PR departments.          

 

Photo credits:

Kendall Carver - photo of Merrian Carver

Kevin Wolf (AP) - photo of Maureen Smith, Michaeil Crye, Jennifer Hagel

Seattle Post Intelligencer - photo of Amber Malkuch