Over 8 years ago George Smith went overboard from the Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in the Aegean Sea during his honeymoon cruise.

By all accounts, Royal Caribbean covered the true circumstances of the crime up. In the process, this less-than-honest cruise line sparked a national interest in what really happens on cruise ships which continues today.  

George Smith Royal Caribbean DisappearanceA Congressional hearing was convened in December 2005 which focused the public on cruise ship crimes, disappearances at sea and how cruise lines like Royal Caribbean handle public relation nightmares like this.  

Seven Congressional hearings later, the topic of cruise ship crimes, missing cruise passengers and crew members, and cruise cover-ups continues.

Senator Rockefeller has introduced new legislation designed to require greater transparency from the cruise industry. Sponsoring the bill is Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal who has stated that he is committed to requiring accountability aboard cruise ships.   

The Greenwich Times reports today that "Family of Man Lost at Sea Backs Cruise Ship Bill." The Smith family states in a letter: "We have encountered nothing but obstacles from both Royal Caribbean and those individuals last seen with George on the cruise ship."

The time for a law requiring cruise lines to be honest is long overdue.

 

Photo Credit: Greenwich Time

George Smith Cruise Ship DisappearanceIt has been eight years since George Smith disappeared from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas in the early morning hours of July 4, 2005.

The cruise line initially stated that it had no idea what happened. But in 2012 it was revealed that Royal Caribbean took possession of a video shortly after the incident which implicated several men who were last seen with Mr. Smith. The video shows one of the men saying "we gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute."

The FBI took possession of the video back in 2005 and did not reveal the contents to any of the families.

Seeking justice on the high seas when crimes occur is often a difficult task. The FBI has a poor record prosecuting crimes on cruise ships. It often seems that the FBI is more concerned with not embarrassing the cruise lines than obtaining justice for victims of crimes and their families.

The George Smith case is a good example of justice denied. But the case is still "open" and has been transferred from the FBI’s office in Connecticut to the FBI office in New York. Say your prayers that there’s an arrest and prosecution.

You can read a series of articles about Mr. Smith’s disappearance here.

 

Photo Credit: CBS

Lonnie KocontesLonnie Kocontes, age 55, was arrested last week on a murder warrant in the death of his ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, who went overboard from an Italian cruise ship seven years ago.

Kocontes, a lawyer licensed in California, was arrested in Florida where he was living. He was booked into into the Pasco County Jail where he is being held without bail. 

He is charged with one count of "special circumstances murder for financial gain." 

Kocontes met Kanesaki in the early 1990s at a Los Angeles law firm where he worked as an attorney and she worked as an administrative assistant. They later married in 1995.

Kocontes was reportedly fired from his job after he was arrested in 2000 for charges of sexual contact with a minor that were later dismissed. In 2001, they divorced to protect their assets from civil litigation. They continued to live together, but their relationship deteriorated. 

In May 2006, the couple vacationed in Italy and sailed aboard the Island Escape cruise ship. On May 26, 2006, the cruise ship was sailing between Sicily and Naples, when Kanesaki went overboard. Her body washed ashore the next day in Calabria in southwest Italy. An autopsy was performed. An Italian medical doctor concluded that she had been strangled before she went overboard.

Kocontes claims that Kanesaki left the cabin around 1 a.m. to get a cup of tea. Kocontes reported her missing after he woke up and couldn’t find her. Italian police boarded the ship, seized records and videotapes and took statements from the crew.

Island Escape Cruise ShipProsecutors say that Kocontes strangled Kaneski to death on board the ship and then threw her overboard.

Kocontes later began transferring more than $1 million from Kaneski’s bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife. That prompted the FBI to begin seizure efforts which were dismissed by a federal judge in California. 

The Orange County Register covered the story back in 2006, and quoted Kanesaki’s mother saying that her daughter was in good spirits before the cruise. ‘‘I can’t imagine what happened to her. There’s no reason to believe it was a suicide.’’ 

A newspaper in Italy published an article "The Perfect Murder." 

The case reminds me of the murder of Karen Roston by her husband Mark Roston aboard Admiral Cruises’ Sundancer some 20 years ago.

 

Photo Credit: VIP.it

Last night a young woman from Bartlett, Tennessee disappeared from the world’s largest cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas.

According to experts who track cruise ship disappearances, she was the 186th person to go overboard from a cruise ship in the last ten years.

At the time of the overboard last night, the Allure was sailing to Nassau after leaving Ft. Lauderdale (Port Everglades).

Royal Caribbean Cruises issued a press release that the 21 year old U.S. passenger went overboard Allure of the Seas OverBoard Passengerat 9:25 PM Eastern Standard Time last night.  The incident was apparently captured on the cruise ship’s CCTV cameras. 

Royal Caribbean Delays Notifying the Coast Guard

The Sun Sentinel reports that the incident was reported to the cruise line around 9:30 PM, but the cruise line delayed reporting the incident to the Coast Guard for 2 hours until 11:30 PM. According to the Sun Sentinel. the cruise line apparently searched the ship for two hours to look for the young woman.

Only after the shipboard search was unsuccessful did the ship contact the Coast Guard.

Royal Caribbean Denies Delay

According to Cruise Critic, Royal Caribbean says that there was no delay.  It released a statement claiming that after another passenger observed the overboard and reported it, "the ship’s Captain immediately stopped the ship, turned around, and alerted the U.S. and Bahamian Coast Guard."  This is inconsistent with the Coast Guard statement that Royal Caribbean waited until 11:30 PM to notify it and then search in the water for the passenger.

The Allure is a huge ship with some 8,000 passengers and crew members. As the cruise line likes to advertise, the massive ship comprises some seven neighborhoods.  Why would the cruise line waste valuable time searching such a big ship while sailing for two hours away from where the overboard was observed? 

Cruise expert Professor Ross Klein reports that 186 people (passengers and crew members) have gone overboard in the last decade or so.

The last overboard from the Allure of the Seas was in early February of this year when an Irish passenger in his 20’s went overboard.  

In instances where suicide is suspected, the cruise lines usually allude to that in their initial public statement. There is no mention of that so far.

Alcohol is often involved in cruise ship overboards, but there is no mention of that factor one way or the other.

Please leave a comment below if you have information about what happened, or click on our facebook page to see what other people are saying about this case.

 

September 18, 2012 Update: Cruise line’s 2 hour delay in inconsistent with Coast Guard regulations, International Maritime Organization (IMO) recommendations and cruise line safety management system (SMS) procedures – read here..

September 19, 2012 Update:  Royal Caribbean tries to justify why it delayed stopping the ship and notifying the Coast Guard.  Coast Guard ends its delayed search.  FBI now involved. 

September 20, 2012 Update: Royal Caribbean Struggles to Justify Delayed Notification to Coast Guard.

September 22, 2012 Update:  Allure of the Seas: "Profits Over Passenger Safety?

September 27, 2012 Update: Passenger identified.  One of her last comments on Twitter: ‘Lord Keep Us Safe On This Gigantic Cruise Ship." 

October 3, 2012 Updates: Delay, Deny, Deceive & Defend: Royal Caribbean Shows How Not to Respond to an Overboard Passenger 

Video: Royal Caribbean Delayed Reporting Overboard Passenger

Multiple news sources are reporting that three U.S. cruise passengers from the Carnival Freedom cruise ship are missing since yesterday after disembarking the cruise ship in Ocho Rios.

USA TODAY states that the three passengers, all from the same family, failed to return to the cruise ship on Thursday following a day-long call in the Jamaican port of Ocho Rios.

The Associated Press reports that missing Americans are Donald Freedom Cruise Ship - Ocho Rios - Missing PassengersHenderson, age 45; Maria Henderson, age 43; and Aja Henderson, age 21.

The Freedom is on a six-day cruise that departed Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, and returns to South Florida tomorrow (Saturday).

There are comments to some of the on line articles speculating about what might have happened, including the passengers being victims of crime.  We have written many articles about Jamaica, a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it’s a destination which suffers from violence and drug trafficking.  At this point there is simply no information on way or the other.

Newspapers in Jamaica are asking that anyone knowing the whereabouts of the Henderson family contact the Ocho Rios Police at 974-2533, Police 119 emergency number.

If you were on the cruise and have information which may lead to the location of this family, please leave a comment below.

July 27, 2012 Update: ABC Radio reports that the cruise passengers apparently left the ship with their belongings and the Jamaican police found them safe and sound in a villa on the northern coast of Jamaica. Here is the ABC account:

Three Americans who failed to return to their Carnival Cruise ship after a stopover in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Thursday, were found safe and unharmed this afternoon at a villa in Discovery Bay — approximately 40 minutes west, on Jamaica’s northern coast.

The three passengers, whom the cruise line earlier identified as members of the same family, went missing after disembarking the Carnival Freedom for a day-long port call in Ocho Rios, the cruise line said in a statement obtained by ABC News.

Jamaican authorities had classified the disappearance as a missing persons case, saying it was odd that the family took all of their belongings off of the ship before vanishing. The family has no known ties to anyone in Jamaica.

It was not immediately clear why the family left the ship and never returned. They are in the custody of Jamaican police and will be questioned about their mysterious departure. Police have not yet said whether charges will be brought against the three passengers.

 

Photo credit: Cruise Critic

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the disappearance of youth counselor Rebecca Coriam from the Disney Wonder cruise ship.  

BBC News published an article which summed up the problems caused when a cruise line like Disney chooses to fly a flag of convenience in a country like the Bahamas.  You can read the article here

A press release with video is here.

Our last article about Rebecca’s disappearance is here.

Watch a dateline video from Australia about Rebecca’s disappearance below:   

   

https://youtube.com/watch?v=bLgc1dqhCsQ%3Frel%3D0

 

If you have information about Rebecca’s disappearance, please contact us and / or the Coriam family using the contact information below.  We are interested in hearing from former employees of Disney Cruise Lines, particularly youth counselors who used to work aboard the Disney Wonder

Jim Walker:

Telephone:  305 995 5300

Toll Free:  800 256 1518

Email:  jim@cruiselaw.com

Coriam family:

Telephone: 011 44 774 735 9968

Email:  help@rebecce-coriam.com 

Cruise disappearance James EwansIn November 2006, a 73 year old Scottish passenger was reported missing from the Century cruise ship while the vessel traveling near Madeira in the Canary Islands.  The disappearance was discovered when a crew member reported that passenger James ("Jimmy") Ewan, of Fife, Scotland, had not used his cabin the previous night. 

Ship logs indicate that Mr. Ewan, who had been traveling alone, did not disembark in the previous port.   The cruise ship conducted a cursory search and then continued on its 14-night trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona, Spain, to Miami. 

Today a newspaper in Scotland is reporting that the mystery of Mr. Ewan’s disappearance five years ago has been solved.  The newspaper reports that Mr. Ewan’s "best pal and executor of his will," John Cooper, has been struggling with settling his estate for the past several years.  The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Portuguese Consulate apparently were of little help. 

Mr. Cooper complained that he could not obtain a certificate of death so that Mr. Ewan’s business could be wound up and his will could be executed.

The newspaper reports that Mr. Ewan had lost his wife 20 years ago and had no children.

Cabin attendants found his personal belongings neatly laid out in his cabin, including the executor of his will’s name and telephone phone number.  Mr. Ewan reportedly stated that " . . . he didn’t want to be a burden to anyone as he got old . . . "  The newspaper reports that "he scrapped his car two days before leaving, which was odd because he couldn’t do without it."

Mr. Cooper stated that "I’m the executor of his will and the fact my details were sitting on top of his wallet in his cabin rang alarm bells.  It’s like he tied everything up and not left anything outstanding."

If I decided to end my life like this, I hope that someone would remember me – like Mr. Ewan – with a big smile on my face, waving goodbye.   

 

Photo credit: dailyrecord.co.uk

Whistler mountain bikingLast night our family arrived back in Miami after a three week vacation in the Pacific North West.  We enjoyed Pike Place Market in Seattle, kayaked in the Orcas Islands (amazing), mountain biked in Whistler, and hiked Mt. Rainier.  What a blast.

Aside from a spectacular wipe-out on a mountain bike trail by my youngest son, we returned to Miami safe and sound.  

Given the nature of my profession, I am ever mindful that some family vacations do not turn out to be happy memories. 

An experience while visiting Orcas Island reminded me of that.  My wife and law partner Lisa was visiting a quilting store when she overheard the store owner talking about just returning from a Holland America cruise to Alaska with her partner.  Lisa asked how they enjoyed the cruise.  The store owner’s face turned grim.  She paused and said a young man disappeared during the cruise.     

The store owner was referring to twenty year old Blake Kepley, who disappeared during an Alaskan cruise with his family aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam on July 22nd.  Like many cruise ship disappearances, the cruise line has not disclosed whether there are closed circuit television images of the young man which may explain what happened.  This lack of transparency causes great stress to the surviving family members who must struggle not only with the misery of losing a child but the confusion of not knowing what really happened.

Kayaking Orca's IslandWhen I hear of incidents like this, I see images of other young men and women who have disappeared from cruise ships without explanation.  Like Amber Malkuch from Holland America’s ZandaamRebecca Coriam from the Disney WonderMerrian Carver from the Celebrity Mercury MercuryAngelo Faliva from the Coral Princess, George Smith from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, and Amy Bradley from Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas.

I do not know how these families endure their grief.  In the case of Amy Bradley, the Bradley family has suffered through twelve years of missing their daughter with no answers from the cruise line. 

When I hear of incidents of loved ones lost at sea I pray that my children, and all children, remain safe when they travel and vacation.  And when I return home, I am thankful that my family stayed safe from harm.    

Blake Kepley, a Fallbrook High School graduate was last seen between 12 and 1 a.m. on Friday, July 22, 2011. His family reported the 20-year-old missing at about 2:30 p.m. that same day according to the Village News; however, Sign On San Diego reports that the family notified the cruise line as early as 7:00 a.m. Both reports maintain that Holland America waited until 4:00 p.m. before contacting the Coast Guard to report that Kepley possibly went overboard.

The Coast Guard immediately began the search; however, was unsuccessful in locating Kepley and the search was suspended nearly 24 hours later after covering more than 352 miles. Kepley went missing between Sikta and Ketchikan during his Alaskan cruise aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam.

For more information click on NBC’s San Diego News Report:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=FiTAQwMLmQ4%3Fhl%3Den%26fs%3D1

If you have any information or tips regarding the disappearance of Blake Kepley, e-mail us at jwalker@cruiselaw.com

Video credit: NBC San Diego

The Rebecca Coriam Search Foundation is holding a fundraiser and rally to help raise money to continue the search and investigation into the disappearance of Disney crew member, Rebecca Coriam.

The rally is being held on July 23, 2011, from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. at the Chester Race Course Pavillion. For more information visit the event web page at: A Night for Rebecca Coriam.

Additional information can be found on Rebecca Coriam’s Twitter and Web Page.

Rebecca went missing on March 22, 2011 while working in the youth activity center aboard the M/S Disney Wonder. Cruise Law News (CLN) has previously reported on the disappearance and investigation of Ms. Coriam.

To read more about Rebecca Coriam’s disappearance click on the following:

What Happened to Youth Counselor Rebecca Coriam on Disney’s Wonder Cruise Ship?

Parents of Missing Disney Crew Member Return to England with Daughter’s Belongings, But No Answers

After Quick Investigation, Bahamian Police Proclaim "No Foul Play" in Disappearance of Disney Crew Member

Update on Missing Disney Crewmember Rebecca Coriam