News sources are reporting that the FBI office in New York will be reviewing file materials maintained by the FBI's office in Connecticut to determine whether arrests should be made regarding the disappearance and presumed death of cruise passenger George Smith.
George Smith vanished from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005, leaving behind a pool of blood on a lifeboat awning below his cabin.
In the video below, you can finally see expressions of optimism from the Smith family that there may finally be an arrest in George's case. The Smith family is represented by attorney Mike Jones from Greenwich Connecticut.
Saturday night, CBS's "'48 Hours" will air what is being described as "important new evidence" in the mysterious disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. The episode is called "48 Hours: Murder at Sea?"
You may recall that George Smith from the Greenwich Connecticut area was enjoying his honeymoon with his newly-wed bride Jennifer Hagel when he disappeared from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005, leaving a blood-stained awning behind him.
The cruise line quickly concluded that Mr. Smith was intoxicated and must have been sitting on a balcony railing and fell overboard, and it reported this self-serving opinion as its official report to the flag state. Royal Caribbean ignored the fact that four young men were last seen in the Smith's cabin and that there were sounds of an argument and loud noises consistent with a struggle, followed by a resounding "thud" on the awning below.
We represented George's wife, Jennifer, who instructed us to retain noted forensic scientist Henry Lee in the face of the cruise line's lack of cooperation.
The cruise line cheerleaders are out in full force with travel writer Jane Archer of the Telegraph newspaper in London answering her own question Is Cruising Safer One Year On? and Carolyn Spencer Brown of the Expedia / TripAdvisor owned Cruise Critic fan site conducting a puff piece interview for CNN International extolling on the virtues of cruising and blaming the series of institutional failures solely on "one rogue captain."
The cruise lines would prefer not to have several thousands of people standing with the wrecked cruise ship in the background, telling the world how Costa and Carnival have treated them over the last year.
The one year anniversary of the Costa Concordia disaster is one week away.
You will begin to see daily stories about the survivors and families whose loved ones did not survive the disaster. There will be a wide variety of articles about how the victims are handling their lives at this point.
Some people have seemed to have largely put the terrible incident behind them. Others are struggling emotionally and physically. Some passengers settled their case and have tried to move on. Some crew members resolved their differences and are back to work with Costa on other cruise ships. Other passengers and crew are just now pursuing legal action and face a different year or two ahead of them.
Here are some of the recent stories:
29 year-old Kentucky resident Lauren Moore was sailing aboard the ill-fated cruise ship with her friends when disaster struck. She says: "It's not easy for me to forget. I remember the sounds of the screaming. I remember the feeling of the boat going over on its side."
"People being shoved, people screaming, people fighting each other for a spot to safe their life. My friend and I grabbed hands and we never let go of each other until we were safe on land." Lauren says that she remembers the sights and sounds of the horrible events that claimed the lives of 32 people every day. she chose to accept the cruise line's settlement offer last year. One year after the disaster, she now wants to celebrate the fact that she and her friends are alive on the one year anniversary. You can watch a video of Lauren here.
Ian and Janice Donoff of London were among the last to escape the death ship. An article in Haaretz explains that the couple are religiously observant and spent the day in Rome, returning to the ship early to prepare for Shabbat. After dinner they watched a magic show when they heard a loud bang and scrape. Around 11:00 PM the abandon ship order was finally made resulting in panic, Janice recalled "everybody was clamoring for the lifeboats."
The Donoffs found themselves stuck in an inner section with 400 other people and only one exit. Ian recited the confessional Jewish prayer before death. They eventually made it to an outer deck, and crawled down a rope ladder to a lifeboat. Janice broke bones in her hands and feet. On dry land they recited the "Birkat Hagomel" (the blessing of Thanksgiving ).
Costa offered 11,000 Euros in compensation for lost property, but the Donoffs did not accept the sum. They have considered suing and are currently negotiating with the company. The article states that they harbor no ill will toward Captain Schettino.
Mylene Litzler, 23 and her fiancé Mickael Blemand, 24, from France, are two of the 32 people who perished. The Telegraph published an excellent article entitled Costa Concordia survivors: "One Year On, Our Lives Are Still in Ruins" which included comments by Mylene's father: “I absolutely want to see the commander and a part of his crew in prison for this. It has broken a whole life – ours, as well as Mickael’s parents’ and that of Mylene’s brother. Justice needs to be done.”
British victims, Rose Metcalf Amelia Leon from South London, suffer from flashbacks, nightmares and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They are some of the clients of the English law firm, Irwin Mitchel, who are representing crew members and passengers against Costa. One of the lawyers told a newspaper in the U.K.: “We believe that the initial impact could have been avoided and that this was compounded by the failure of the crew, the captain, and the carrier to exercise proper evacuation processes. Had they been carried out lives may have been saved.”
Newlywed couple Benji Smith and Emily Lau were on their wedding cruise when disaster struck. They scavenged a rope from the deck of the ship and rappelled down the hull. "I've never been so terrified in my life," says Smith. "When all the lifeboats left us behind, Emily and I truly thought we were going to die. This was our honeymoon cruise, but we actually said goodbye to each other." They recently announced that they are publishing a memoir of their experience escaping from the sinking ship and an album of original compositions inspired by the disaster.
The cruise industry claims that the cruise lines have instituted improvements to avoid the next Concordia disaster. Carnival U.K. chief David Dingle explains to ITV in a video that the cruise lines have started more drills for passengers and staff, extra life jackets, fewer visits to the bridge, ships keeping to course and heavy objects being secured.
Meanwhile the Concordia lies in the port of Giglio. It is expected to be removed from the port at the end of next summer.
Top - Francesco Schettino - AP
Bottom - Costa Concordia - Giglio News (image dated September 2012).
This morning the Disney Wonder arrived in the port of Miami for the first time. It quietly slipped through government cut and nestled itself along side the cruise terminal at the port of Miami where it will start taking families on cruises with their kids dreaming of sailing with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
Disney decided to stop sailing the Wonder on a Mexican Riviera route and re-positioned the cruise ship to here in Miami to begin taking passengers on Caribbean cruises. Later today, at 5:00 PM, the Wonder will be departing with a boat-load of families on its inaugural Caribbean cruise from Miami.
What fun for the kids and the proud parents. Certainly a happy time for families to be sailing with their children on a tropical Christmas cruise.
But for one family this Christmas season is a rather somber and frustrating time of year.
Mike and Ann Coriam from Chester England lost their daughter, Rebecca, age 24, from the Disney Wonder off the coast of Mexico last year. Rebecca was a highly regarded youth counselor whose job was to take care of the kids on the Wonder. She did not appear at the cruise ship's child facility for work one day. Because Disney flags its cruise ships in the Bahamas to avoid taxes and labor & wage laws, the responsibility for investigating the disappearance fell to a lone policeman in Nassau.
If you have ever traveled to Nassau, you will quickly learn that the police can't solve a crime when a thief rips a gold necklace from the neck of a visiting cruise passenger even if the robbery takes place across the street from the police station. The notion that a Bahamian police officer could solve a disappearance of a young woman during a cruise from California to Mexico is laughable if the situation were not so sad.
I sent a letter to Disney asking for some basic information and was completely ignored. The Magical Cruise Line people claimed that all information must come from the police in Nassau who refuse, as Disney knows, to cooperate with the Coriam family.
The policeman eventually prepared a report regarding his "investigation," for what that's worth, but refuses to provide a copy to the Coriam family. Disney is indifferent to the Coriam's plight, and is hiding behind the stonewalling in the Bahamas.
A newspaper in the Coriam's home town, the Chesterfirst, has published an article about the tragic and maddening tale, "We Want the Truth."
“It will be two years in March since Rebecca’s disappearance and we are still no closer to knowing what happened to her on that ship,” said Mike.
“All we want is to know what happened to Rebecca so that we can have some closure, as it is the not knowing that is the most difficult thing to deal with.”
Mike and Ann are hoping that a new appeal for information, now raised in the House of Commons by Chester MP Stephen Mosley, will help bring the Corian family a step closer to establishing what exactly happened to their beloved daughter.
Mr Mosley had told Mike Penning, the U.K. Minister for Shipping, last month that the investigation by Bahamanian police had been “appalling” and that they had made “virtually no attempt at investigating Rebecca’s disappearance.”
“We are having to seek information from the other side of the world and it has been really hard for me, Ann and the rest of the family to deal with . . . the fact is that Rebecca isn’t here with us and we just don’t know what has happened to her."
“She is in our thoughts every single day and Christmas time makes it especially hard for us all. We miss her terribly.”
Later this afternoon, the Disney Wonder will sail out of the port of Miami filled with smiling-faced children. Whether they realize it or not, every family on the Disney Wonder is only a railing away from experiencing the same horror the Coriam family is suffering this Christmas Season.
Photo Credit: Rebecca & Corian Family - Coriam Family
Today, our firm was retained to help the family of missing HAL cruise passenger Jason Rappe' find answers to what happened during the evening of November 28th and the early morning hours of November 29th aboard the Holland America Line Eurodam cruise ship.
On November 24th, 41 year old Jason Rappe' and his wife, Tine, left Fort Lauderdale on a 7 day Caribbean cruise aboard the Eurodam.
Jason is believed to have gone overboard on November 29th as the cruise ship was sailing from St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) to the Bahamas, somewhere north-west of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Coast Guard eventually was notified but the search was called off after approximately 36 hours. You can read our article here which we published on the day of Jason's disappearance.
Jason and his wife were married 17 years ago and live in Olympia Washington. Jason works as a carpenter and is a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
Jason served in the U.S. Army and is a veteran, and was honorably discharged as a sergeant.
Jason's wife, brothers and father released a statement which is repeated below. The family is seeking any information which may explain how and when Jason apparently went overboard. Please help. If you were on the cruise, please contact us.
Contact: Jim Walker: telephone - 305 995 5300 or 1 800 526 1518.
Please note that the comment section below is closed, and no further comments will be published. If you were on the cruise and have information, please contact us directly.
Statement by the Rappe’ Family Regarding Missing HAL Cruise Passenger Jason Rappe’
On behalf of the Rappe’ family, we would like to extend our gratitude to all of you who have shown so much love and support for us during this time of crisis. We are all still trying to come to grips with this awful event of losing Jason at sea.
For those of you who are not familiar with what happened, Jason and his wife, Tine, from Olympia Washington, went on a 7 day cruise aboard the Holland America Line Eurodam out of Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean. On November 29, 2012, Jason apparently went overboard and has not been located.
We pray that somehow Jason is out there, and that he is ok. There are not many people on this planet with the grit and toughness that Jason has demonstrated in his life. Between Jason’s training in the U.S. Army and his stubborn, never-fail attitude, we know that if anyone can survive this it is him.
Jason is the type of person who could easily be imagined making a rope from his goatee, and lassoing a pair of sea turtles on which he would triumphantly stand as they lead him back to safety.
Our family is seeking information regarding what happened during the cruise. If you were on the cruise ship, we would to like obtain any information that you may have regarding Jason and the circumstances surrounding him going overboard. A maritime attorney is helping us investigate what happened, and we ask that you contact him with your information. His name is Jim Walker and his contact information is below.
Jason’s wife and father will not be conducting any interviews at this time, and we ask that you respect their privacy.
Thank you again for your support and prayers as we deal with this horrible family event.
Wife: Marie Christine (“Tine”) Rappe'
Father: Dana Rappe’
Brother: Ross Rappe’
Brother: Eric Rappe’
As I mentioned earlier this week, tonight the Nancy Grace program takes a look back at the mystery of the George Smith case.
Mr. Smith "disappeared" from the Brilliance of the Seas during his honeymoon cruise with his newlywed wife, Jennifer Hagel, in July 2005.
There has been some mystery and intrigue over the years. But there have been developments this year which point the finger squarely at some of the men last seen with Mr. Smith as being involved in his disappearance.
Seven years ago, Nancy Grace interviewed me on her show about the case (we represented George's widow, Jennifer). Ms. Grace spent more time attacking Jennifer, than focusing on those responsible for George's death and the cruise line which tried to cover it up.
The photo to the right is of George and Jennifer at the beginning of their honeymoon cruise. (We distributed the photo at the Congressional hearing into Mr. Smith's death in 2005).
This was a couple deeply in love, with a life together ahead of them.
Let's hope that tonight's program is really an update on who was involved in George's death over seven years ago, and not a platform to attack his wife, Jennifer.
This is a case where there needs to be an arrest of those who were involved in George's death and those who covered it up.
Over seven years ago, newlywed cruise passenger George Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas into the Aegean Sea. The cruise line quickly concluded that Mr. Smith probably sat on the railing of his balcony and fell overboard, but there is absolutely no proof of that.
What Royal Caribbean knew but did not reveal to the families of George Smith and his bride, Jennifer Hagel, was that it had seized a video camera from other men last seen with Mr. Smith. The day after Mr. Smith's disappearance, these passengers were eating breakfast in the cruise ship's dining room when they began filming each other. According to a CBS program this year, the men were recorded laughing about the situation and mocking Mr. Smith.
The camera then stops on one of the three men who said: "We gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute."
Our firm represented Mr. Smith's widow and we hired forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee back in 2005 to investigate the case. The cruise line never revealed this video to us, or to Dr. Lee, or to the public. Instead, it launched a scandalous media campaign to portray Mr. Smith as a drunk and his bride as unfaithful.
This Friday, the Nancy Grace program is airing a special look back at this case entitled "What Happened to George Smith?" The program will take a look back on some of the developments in the case. This "mystery" is no mystery at all. Those involved should be prosecuted.
I am not a fan of Nancy Grace. Her program lost focus on the cruise line's cover-up and the incompetency of the FBI in investigating the crime, while unnecessarily pitting the Smith family against their daughter-in-law. But her program is one of the few that continues to cover Mr. Smith's disappearance. I'll be watching this Friday.
CBS News aired an interesting program today where additional details of the incriminating statements by the "three Russians" about "missing honeymooner" George Smith were revealed.
CBS interviewed former Assistant FBI Director John Miller who explained that the day after Mr. Smith's disappearance, the two Rozenberg men and "Rusty" Kofman were eating breakfast in the cruise ship's dining room when they began filming each other. Miller explains that the men were recorded laughing about the situation and mocking Mr. Smith.
The camera then stops on one of the three men (who was not identified) who said: "We gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute."
To my knowledge, these precise words have never been revealed to the public before. Although the release of the actual statement is new, the existence of the tape is not. The FBI has been in possession of the tape since 2005.
Obviously this statement is incriminating, considering Mr. Smith went over the railing of his balcony and the Royal Caribbean security report on the morning of the disappearance states that young men were seen leaving the area near the Smith's cabin at around 4:30 AM.
With this statement as well as other evidence we are familiar with in the case (we represented Jennifer Hagel and hired forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee to investigate whether George was thrown overboard), it is disturbing that the FBI has not made an arrest.
You will recall that Mr. Smith disappeared off of the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas in July 2005. Although the cruise line tried to shrug the event off as a drunken accident, suspicions pointed to four men last seen in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005.
The "new" clues include a video of the men on the cruise ship. The men recorded themselves at some point on the cruise ship after George Smith's disappearance and may have said something incriminating.
There is also mention that the criminal investigation may be transferred from the Connecticut FBI to the New York FBI where some of the men live.
The video below shows a number of old photographs associated with the case including a press conference I held in Miami in January 2006 (second photo, below right). Last summer I published a series of articles about the case: Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
New details have surfaced in the disappearance of George Smith who vanished from his honeymoon cruise in 2005. Greenwich magazine's Cristin Marandino discusses the case with MSNBC's Thomas Roberts.
"There is some new information about to talk about in the case of a Connecticut man lost at sea on his honeymoon. it happened seven years ago. you'll probably remember that George Smith went overboard while on his honeymoon in 2005. The FBI investigation into his death is still open.
Greenwich Magazine has exclusive details about new evidence that may lead to an arrest. Explain to all of us -- you said yourself this is a story with a lot of twists and turns. What's the new evidence that may lead to an arrest?
Well, good morning. There is a bunch of new evidence going on here. One of the probably biggest and most exciting pieces that really is going to hopefully help push this case forward is the existence of a videotape that is in the possession of the FBI. On that videotape there are certain individuals that make very self incriminating statements following the death of George Smith.
Cristin, when you talk about videotape, this is not surveillance video from the actual ship. This is something shot after the event itself?
No, that is correct. This is a videotape that the gentlemen made of themselves. And in their room, sort of passing around a flip phone.
So lots of people remember this. This was a beautiful young couple on their honeymoon. This was such a horrific incident. there was, you know, correlations, though, or kind of scandalous questions brought up about what this couple was doing that night, how much both parties had been drinking, and things trying to make them look somehow as if he deserved this in some way, shape, or form. The family has disputed that. The wife has moved on. even gotten a settlement. How is the family responding to this new information that you're working on?
The family is obviously thrilled about this new information, and they have been working very carefully with a Greenwich based attorney, Mike Jones, who in large part has been responsible for helping to push this forward and making sure that this evidence does get into the right hands, which now it has. and, yeah, there's been a lot of misconceptions, a lot of in inconsistency with this case. And i think that's what we tried to do and why we tried to get in the game at this point, put all of that stuff to rest, and really start talking about what did happen and helping to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And, you know, exonerate the people that should be exonerated and put a little bit of a light on people who maybe should be looked at more closely.
When you talk about the family, explain the relationship between George Smith 's parents and his wife.
At this point, I think everybody's sort of moved on. I think it's, you know, as you said, Jennifer has moved on. She is also living in Connecticut. I don't -- you know, i think they are just living their own lives.
if you were to guess, hazard a guess as to when we may hear of an arrest or arrests are made, what timetable would you suggest?
I really at this point don't know. And the people that i have spoken with, the hope is that because of this tape, and because of the fact that they are trying to get the case transferred from the Connecticut FBI to the New York FBI, which is a good sign on a lot of levels. One, it shows that two of the targets that they are looking at do indeed live in New York. So it shows they are trying to push it forward in that way. And that this tape is out there, and the information is out there that this tape exists. so hopefully, you know, i would say hopefully soon.
It's certainly a case that gripped the attention of the American people. And i can imagine for the Smith family, it will be nice if they can find some forward motion and see justice in all of this. But we'll continue to watch. Cristin, thank you for your coverage this morning."
Watch the video below. If you don't subscribe to Greenwich Magazine, read the first part of the article "Mystery at Sea" here.
A publishing company in Connecticut issued a press release today indicating that there is additional evidence to support the conclusion that George Smith was murdered during his honeymoon cruise in July of 2005.
Greenwich Magazine indicates that its June edition will contain "new information released for the first time" which will provide additional proof that "could lead to the criminal indictment of suspects in one of the biggest unsolved murder cases in Greenwich, Connecticut history."
The press release also mentions an "incriminating videotape."
The story is called Mystery at Sea, and was investigated and written by Timothy Dumas. Mr. Dumas previously authored the book Greentown, Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community, which chronicles the murder of Martha Moxley.
The press release states that Mr. Dumas conducted extensive interviews and waded through depositions, cruise ship files, incident reports and witness statements. It appears that he has been working closely with the Connecticut lawyers representing Mr. Smith's parents and sister.
This weekend saw a renewed interest of the public into the disappearance of cruise passenger George Smith with the airing of a "update" of the unsolved case by Dateline NBC called "Overboard."
The Dateline program focused on the four men last seen with Mr. Smith: Gregory Rozenberg, Zachary Rozenberg, Rostislav ("Rusty") Kofman, and Josh Askin. These four cruise passengers were in Mr. Smith's cabin after 4:00 AM in the morning shortly before Mr. Smith went overboard.
Although Dateline suggested there is a new focus by the FBI on these four passengers, the truth of the matter is that the FBI focused on these four shortly after Mr. Smith's death in July 2005 - over six and one-half years ago.
Many news sources, including the New York Post, are reporting that the "Russians" (the two Rozenberg brothers and Rostislav Kofman) all reside in New York and allegedly are now subject to the scrutiny of the FBI "mafia team" in New York. Hogwash. Greg Rozenberg lived in South Florida (Boca Raton) for years. He has spent years in a prison in Florida. He now lives in Dade City, Florida.
Greg Rozenberg has been arrested multiple times in Florida for various alleged offenses ranging from driving with a suspended license to possession of cannabis to trafficking oxycodone. His mug shots are readily available on line, including the one below taken in 2009.
The Dateline show showed snippets from the deposition of Mr. Rozenberg which was taken by one of the lawyers for the Smith family while Mr. Rozenberg was in jail in Florida. My impression of the complete deposition is that the Smith family's lawyer did his best to try and lead inmate Rozenberg to testify against Mr. Smith's wife, Jennifer Hagel. To see a lawyer for the Smith family try and lead a felon into implicating a completely innocent widow is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen.
Jennifer Hagel passsed a FBI polygraph in 2005. The FBI never considered her a suspect in her husband's death.
You can watch parts of the video deposition of Greg Rosenberg shown on dateline here.
We will show other portions of the two hour Rozenberg deposition, and explain why that deposition was taken, in another article.
Do you have information about Greg Rozenberg, or fellow cruise passengers Zach Rosenberg, Rusty Kofman and Josh Askin, which may provide answers to solve the George Smith case?
This evening Dateline NBC will air what it is calling an "update" on the story of missing cruise passenger George Smith who disappeared under suspicious circumstances during his honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in the summer of 2005.
I am glad to see that Mr. Smith's case is receiving additional attention.
I have always thought that foul play was involved in Mr. Smith's disappearance. Hopefully the renewed media attention will motivate someone to come forward with information which may help solve the case.
That being said, I am skeptical whether anything "new" will be revealed by the Dateline program tonight.
Dateline advertises that its program will tell " . . . the story of an active, ongoing investigation whereby FBI agents won't talk on the record. However, the cruise line Royal Caribbean has conducted its own internal investigation and Dateline has the exclusive update about what happened aboard the ship in the early hours of July 5, 2005."
Let's keep a few things in perspective. Mr. Smith's disappearance, or murder as many people including me believe, occurred on July 5, 2005 - six and one-half years ago.
In 2005, Royal Caribbean provided us with copies of photographs of the cabin and awning, statements, security reports and other information about Mr. Smith's disappearance. The case was discussed regularly on all of the nightly cable news shows and major networks which broadcast a great deal of information about what happened on the night in question.
Royal Caribbean's investigation into what happened ended in 2005. The cruise line defense lawyers who were sent to the cruise ship have subsequently switched to representing passengers and crewmembers. Believe it or not, they are now employed by a firm which sues Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. There has been no "internal investigation" by Royal Caribbean into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Smith's death for over 6 years.
Now, lets consider the so called "open and active" FBI investigation. Six and one-half years ago, the FBI was investigating the case, although I would consider it rather amateurish. The FBI had not even interviewed the passengers on either side of the Smith's cabin a month after the cruise. These individuals were first interviewed by Joe Scarborough on cable news. The investigation did not get serious until we boarded the cruise ship with forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee and a team of investigators. It was only after we retained Dr. Lee did the FBI test the carpet in the cabin for blood stains.
Our firm was in constant contact with the FBI (we represented George Smith's widow Jennifer Hagel) in 2005 and 2006. It was clear to us that the FBI investigation lost steam in early 2006. A Grand Jury was convened and called witnesses but returned no indictments against anyone. There has been no real investigation by the FBI for well over five years as best as we can tell.
What the Dateline television show will discuss are certain documents, photographs and video which the cruise line has been offering to the families since June of 2006. At that time, we reached a settlement with Royal Caribbean where the cruise line would pay $1,060,000 in compensation, as well as turn over all of the cruise line's documents, photographs, CCTV images, statements and other information in order for the families to try and learn what happened to Mr. Smith. Much of the information was confidential and privileged which the cruise line had no legal obligation to disclose.
The Smith family objected to the terms of the settlement. A probate court in Greenwich upheld the settlement, finding that it was fair and in the best interests of all concerned. But the Smith family appealed the Greenwich probate court's ruling and this delayed the cruise line's release of information. Several years later, Royal Caribbean increased its settlement offer by $250,000 for a total of $1,310,000 and again agreed to provide exactly the same documents, photographs and information it offered back in 2006.
In 2010, Royal Caribbean turned all of its internal information over to the families. There was nothing new in these documents most of which we obtained in 2005. The attorney for the Smith family provided copies of these documents to the producers of Dateline which tonight will disclose the "new" information.
In truth, Dateline is now airing the same old photographs, cruise line documents and statements which we obtained in 2005 and which the cruise line has been offering to all of the families since 2006.
The Smith family apparently has a new theory into their son's death, namely that he was killed in an attempted robbery. The New York Post contains a quote, this morning, from the Smith family's lawyer that “The family believes it was a robbery-gone-bad."
Numerous news sources are reporting that a cruise ship carrying 173 passengers and crew sank in Russia's Volga river today.
The sinking involved the Bulgaria cruise ship, which had 140 passengers and 33 crewmembers aboard.
To date, there have been reports of two confirmed dead bodies recovered and 96 people unaccounted for after the Bulgaria sank at 1358 local time (0858 GMT) in the Tatarstan region, 500 miles east of Moscow.
A helicopter and two rescue vessels are reportedly at the scene of the sinking.
According to the Mail Online, the Bulgaria sank near the village of Syukeevo in the Kansko-Ustinovsky district near the region's capital, Kazan. The Bulgaria belongs to a local tourism company and was on its way from the town of Bulgar to the regional capital, Kazan.
There are conflicting accounts of the number of people missing. The Russian website states that 169 people have been rescued, although most news accounts state that there are 80 -100 still missing.
July 10, 2011 Update:
A Russian website has heart wrenching photographs of the survivors. Updated information from Russia regarding the recovery efforts can be located here.
July 11, 2011 Update: The Rianovisti newspaper in Russia reports that although the Russian Transport Ministry stated that the vessel had passed a regular "technical inspection" on June 15th and was certified for further use, investigators discovered that the ship "had a list to starboard and its engine was broken" when it left port. It was "heavily overloaded with passengers." There now appears to have been 196 people on the cruise ship. Only 79 were rescued. The video below depicts disturbing images of some of the deceased passengers.
Top: Survivors of Bulgaria sinking - Rianovisti newspaper
This past week marked six years since George Allen Smith IV disappeared from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas.
Mr. Smith’s disappearance, and the manner in which Royal Caribbean chose to handle the incident, brought much needed attention to the cruise industry. The events which followed Mr. Smith’s death led to five Congressional hearings into disappearances and crimes on cruise ships, culminating in the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act in 2010.
Our firm represented Mr. Smith’s wife, Jennifer Hagel. She hired us to obtain answers to what happened to her husband and to seek compensation for his death.
Starting on Monday, I’ll publish an article each day about the facts and circumstances surrounding the ill fated cruise.
What happened on the night in question? What did the cruise line do when Mr. Smith was discovered missing from the cruise ship once it had reached the port of Kusadasi Turkey the following morning? Did Royal Caribbean voluntarily provide any information to the families of Mr. Smith and his bride Jennifer Hagel for the next several months? What role did the media play in maintaining focus on the story? What led the families to hire maritime lawyers? How did the cruise line respond?
I’ll address these issues. I’ll talk about hiring Dr. Henry Lee and bringing a team of forensic experts and detectives aboard the cruise ship to try and find answers.
How did the legal cases turn out? What is the status of the FBI investigation today?
Most importantly, has there been justice for George Smith?
The mysterious case of cruise passenger Amy Lynn Bradley is again in the news. Amy was traveling with her brother and parents when she disappeared 12 years ago while aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas. The ship had left Oranjestad, Aruba, and was sailing to Curaçao, in the Netherlands Antilles. On March 24, 1998, at age 23, Amy vanished.
The Bradley family was highly critical of Royal Caribbean who they faulted for the delay in responding to the incident and for what they felt was insensitivity toward their plight. Like most disappearances at sea, the cruise line's "investigation" seemed designed to protect the cruise line's image and legal interests. The FBI investigation, as usual, went no where.
Amy's disappearance in 1998 occurred 6 to 7 years before the highly publicized cases of Merrian Carver in 2004 and George Smith IV in 2005, before the formation of the International Cruise Victims organization, and before five Congressional hearings which led to the passage of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010. The Bradleys were fighting the cruise line largely alone.
CNN Justice is now raising the issue whether fragments of a jaw bone found in Aruba, reportedly that of a Caucasian, may possibly be Amy's. You may recall that there was a great deal of speculation that the jaw bone may have been connected to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. Forensic testing concluded that it was not.
By my reading, the CNN article contains no information providing a reasonable basis to connect this evidence to Amy's disappearance 12 years ago. The cruise ship had left Aruba and was closer to Curaçao when the family realized that Amy was missing. So it seems like a stretch to believe that evidence washing ashore in Aruba is tied to this mystery. Hopefully, additional forensic testing will provide a clue.
The story brings the public's attention to this unsolved cruise passenger disappearance and the parent's continuing search for answers to what happened to their daughter during this ill fated Caribbean cruise.
Gather covered this sad story today, and summed up the point exactly:
"It is a terrible thing that the families of Natalee Holloway and Amy Lynn Bradley have had to endure these past many years. It is incredibly sad that there wasn’t more urgency in these cases and that they have never been solved. It has to be hell on the families to not have any idea what happened to their daughters. The not knowing can be quite miserable."
Update: Lifetime has a video / movie "Vanished" (with Beth Holloway) about Amy's disappearance.
The AP is reporting that a final settlement has been reached between Royal Caribbean and the wife and family of George Smith IV. Royal Caribbean has paid the families and their counsel $1,310,000. The cruise line has also turned over copies of certain investigation materials to the families.
The settlement arises out of an incident on July 5, 2005, when Mr. Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship between Greece and Turkey. Mr. Smith was on his honeymoon with his new wife, Jennifer Hagel, following their wedding the week before.
Before the cruise ended, the cruise line, Royal Caribbean, quickly concluded that Mr. Smith's death was an accident. However, when photographs of Mr. Smith's blood on an awning below Mr. Smith's cabin began appearing on nightly television, the U.S. public began to question exactly what happened that night.
Mr. Smith's bride, Jennifer Hagel, hired our firm to represent the estate of her husband. In turn, we retained a number of experts including forensic scientist Henry Lee to board the cruise ship and assist us in searching for answers. Two Congressional hearings were convened, in December 2005 and March 2006, to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the cruise line's response to Mr. Smith's disappearance. Subsequent Congressional hearings into passenger disappearances and cruise ship crime followed in 2007 and 2008.
In June 2006, our client Jennifer Hagel reached a proposed settlement with Royal Caribbean on behalf of her husband's estate in the amount of $1,060,000 and an agreement by the cruise line to turn over its investigation materials to the Smith and Hagel families. The Smith family objected to the settlement.
In 2008, a Probate Court in Greenwich, Connecticut approved the settlement - finding that is was reasonable and in the best interests of all concerned. The Smith family again objected to the Probate Court's order and the Smith family and Ms. Hagel have been litigating in Superior Court in Connecticut for the past two years.
The civil and probate cases are now settled. Royal Caribbean increased its settlement offer by $250,000. The cruise line has also made its investigation materials available to the families as originally agreed to in June 2006.
Mr. Smith's disappearance brought much needed attention to the issue of mysterious overboard passengers and shipboard crime. These events set the stage for an unprecedented five Congressional hearings leading to President Obama's signing of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act.
To date, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has not concluded what happened in Mr. Smith's cabin in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005. One of the four men last seen with Mr. Smith on the morning of July 5th, Gregory Rozenberg, is serving time in prison for drug trafficking.
The AP article indicates that the FBI investigation is officially "open and active."
Five years ago yesterday, George Smith IV (below with his dad, George Smith III) disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship between Greece and Turkey. This was a terrible, terrible night, which filled the public's imagination with speculation about what happened, night after night on the cable news programs.
Behind the news, families grieved with hearts filled with heartbreak and sorrow.
Mr. Smith's newly-wed bride, Jennifer Hagel, retained me to represent the interests of George's estate against Royal Caribbean. I was tasked with trying to find out what happened and to hold those responsible for George's death accountable.
I did the best I could, between a recalcitrant corporate-felon-of-a-cruise-line and families engulfed in grief.
We reached an agreement that Royal Caribbean would pay $1,060,000 and reveal all of its investigation materials regarding George's death.
This was the best result which could be obtained. There is no doubt abut this, especially after 5 years of retrospection.
There existed many obstacles in this case. There is an international treaty which exists called the Athens Convention which, if found applicable, would limit the cruise liability's liability to only around $70,000. Not to mention the wicked "Death On The High Seas Act" which precludes damages other than financial compensation. $1,060,000 and a disclosure of information by the cruise line was a great resolution, notwithstanding such a terrible loss of a young man's life.
But the Smith family (photo below right) has fought at every turn, to appeal the probate court decision in their own home town affirming the decision in Jennifer's favor.
Today, the news is filled with the deaths of young men killed on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig, whose destroyed lives have all been calculated, by the calculus of wrongful death, to be less than $1,000,000 because of the soulless DOHSA law. And these men were working when their lives were taken, with no hint that they were negligent for drinking or poor judgment or any fault of their own. They were blown up by the malfeasance of the rig owner and operators.
You can read about the dreams of young George taking over his father's Cos Cob Liquor Store, juxtaposed with George's alleged abuse of alcohol and misuse of prescription drugs during the ill fated cruise.
This is a sad story. There is no winner. The families are estranged. The cruise line, Royal Caribbean, cares not a whit. Can the Smith family move on from this debacle?
Over the last five years, my wife and I have celebrated 10 birthdays of our two sons who are now 13 and 15 years old. My boys have grown from third and fifth grade kids to young men entering eighth and tenth grade, over the course of the Smith familiy's nightmare.
There is not a day that goes by that I forget how blessed I am to have my boys alive and healthy, and my family intact.
After endless promotional movie clips, Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) finally premiered "Deadly Honeymoon" tonight. The movie is loosely based (very loosely based) on the tragic death of George Smith IV during his honeymoon cruise with our client, Jennifer Hagel, aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in July 2005.
The movie follows two young newlyweds from Denver, Colorado as they embark on their honeymoon cruise from their "picture-perfect" wedding in Hawaii. The actors in the TV movie are Chris Carmack as "Trevor Forrest" and Summer Glau who plays his newly wed wife, "Lindsey."
LMN describes the dream vacation evolving into a night of "wild partying, infidelity and strange encounters with a group of passengers."
The next morning the passengers awake to find Trevor missing, presumed to have fallen overboard to his death. But as the investigation proceeds, an FBI Investigator who just happens to be aboard the cruise ship questions whether Trevor’s death really was just an accident.
I had never heard of the Lifetime Movie Network before. Now I know why.
The movie is very dramatic. But like most Hollywood productions it is ridiculous, having little to so with the actual facts of the case. I can't imagine being a member of the Hagel or Smith families having to watch this nonsense.
In reality, was there "partying" during George Smith's cruise? Yes, but what cruise ship doesn't have partying and drinking? Was there "infidelity?" No. Were there "strange encounters" with other passengers? Yes. Passengers Josh Askin, Rusty Koffman and the two Rosenbergs who were last with George Smith on the night in question are motley characters, in my opinion. Two nights after George Smith disappeared, they were accused of raping or watching the assault of a young woman on the cruise ship. But Royal Caribbean had already sent their defense lawyers to the scene, and the charges were quickly dropped. Greg Rosenberg, one of the men in George Smith's cabin before Mr. Smith went overboard, is reportedly serving time today on drug trafficking charges. He is in prison at this moment.
But does this movie, provide any insight into what happened on July 5, 2005 when the Brilliance of the Seas was sailing to Kusadasi, Turkey? No.
In real life, disappearances on cruise ships, whether due to crime or not, are rarely solved. This is due to the failure of the cruise industry to protect U.S. passenger on foreign-flagged cruise ships like the Brilliance of the Seas. And the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to prosecute crimes which occur on the high seas.
In the last 10 years, over 130 passengers have "disappeared." Most cases remain mysteries. This is something that cruise lines don't want the U.S. public to know.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements. Before you make this important decision, ask us to send you written information about our qualifications and experience.