Family of Missing Honeymooner (finally) Files Suit; Bride Settles Separately

June 30, 2006
Now that the family of George Smith -- the missing honeymooner whose trip on Brilliance of the Seas last summer ended in tragedy -- has finally filed the lawsuit it's been threatening against Royal Caribbean for what seems like eons, get ready for a new spate of stories on the subject.

In a separate action, George Smith's wife Jennifer Hagel Smith has settled with Royal Caribbean. Financial terms were not disclosed, and the deal is subject to approval by a Connecticut probate court.

As most readers will recall, George Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas last July 5, and is presumed dead. What was different about this case, as opposed to other relatively common "passenger disappearances," is that blood stains on a cover over tenders indicate that the circumstances surrounding his death are, er, unusual. No charges, we hasten to add, have yet been proven.

According to media reports, the Smith family, which has been oddly hostile to their daughter-in-law through the whole process, is filing the lawsuit because of emotional distress resulting from Royal Caribbean's "shocking" and "atrocious" behavior. They also allege that Royal Caribbean contaminated the crime scene.

In response, Royal Caribbean has issued a statement, which we reprint in its entirety:

"'These are recklessly false charges that have already been proven wrong by the facts we publicly disclosed months ago,' said Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean International.

"We sympathize with the Smith family regarding the tragic loss of their son. However, this lawsuit is an unconscionable attack on our company and its employees, who have done everything they could to fully support the authorities and their investigations.

"Royal Caribbean has long anticipated this lawsuit filed by the parents and sister of George Smith IV. Over the past year, the public has been exposed to an ongoing litany of false, misleading and unsubstantiated allegations regarding the disappearance of George Smith. We responded in a comprehensive manner, and to this day no one has shown our information to be inaccurate in any way. Clearly, some of the parties involved in this matter have attempted to substitute media proceedings for legal ones. Fortunately, a court of law will afford a judicious, unbiased and legally supervised process that will accurately deal with the facts surrounding this tragedy. It will also bring to bear one of the most distinguishing aspects of our legal system; its use of sworn testimony, under oath, with sanctions for perjury. While we continue to work diligently to assist the FBI in its investigation, and we continue to extend our deepest sympathy to Jennifer Hagel Smith and the Smith family, we look forward to proving that the claims in this lawsuit are false."

Some key facts that show beyond a doubt that the allegations in this lawsuit are false include the following:

The Captain took immediate steps to preserve the scene, including the sealing of the canopy and stateroom and stationing a guard outside them.

Royal Caribbean promptly reported the possibility of a missing guest to the Turkish authorities, the FBI and the U.S. Consulate.

The Turkish police, in liaison with the FBI, conducted a complete forensic investigation onboard the ship, including photographs, fingerprints, blood samples and the collection of other evidence.

The FBI was at the ship the day of the disappearance and boarded the ship in Piraeus, Greece, on July 7 to conduct a further examination of the Smith stateroom.

The Captain only cleaned the canopy after he was twice released to do so by the Turkish police, and only after the Turkish police completed its forensic investigation.

It is the FBI's normal practice when such international incidents occur to defer to local police authorities, working in conjunction with the FBI, to conduct the initial investigation and turn over the results to the FBI. The FBI confirmed this policy as recently as a Congressional hearing on December 13, 2005.

Based on these and many other irrefutable facts, Royal Caribbean is confident it will prevail in this lawsuit.

We'll keep you posted.