I’ve been handling maritime cases, mainly cases involving claims against the cruise ship companies involving all types of incidents, including sexual assaults, disappearances, slip and fall accidents, shoreside excursion problems, medical negligence, both for passengers and crew members, for over 30 years now.
When I first started doing litigation involving the cruise ship industry I realized how secretive the cruise lines were able to keep the problems aboard cruise ships. The cruise ship industry had been very successful in sweeping under the carpet major incidents that were occurring aboard the ship, including sexual assaults and other crimes.
The cruise ship industry grew enormously, and the ships continued sailing on the high seas, and the public relations departments for the different cruise lines worked hard to develop and maintain the image of carefree cruising, with nothing to worry about or be concerned about.
As incidents of crimes, especially sexual assaults, began to increase, and the industry blossomed, it then became too difficult to conceal all that was happening on the cruise ships.
Then came the disappearance of George Smith in 2005 during his honeymoon cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise ship the Brilliance of the Seas. This high profile case was the beginning of a movement for positive legislative changes to require the cruise ship industry to become more transparent.
I had the privilege of being the lawyer for the George Smith family. A colleague of mine, James Walker, was the lawyer for Jennifer Hagel Smith, the bride of George Smith, who at first was questioned a lot about her inability to account for the details of the night her new husband went missing.
In reflecting upon this past year, and the new legislation requiring disclosure of crime data by the cruise ship industry, I thought back to the congressional hearing that started it all in December 2005. I was asked by the United States Congress to speak to the members of the committee at the congressional hearing on maritime cruise ship safety and security. I was honored to be selected as a maritime expert to appear and testify at the hearing.
I recall being grilled by the Congressmen about the cruise ship industry, sitting at a table alongside members of the United States Coast Guard and the FBI. The atmosphere at that time was still protective of the cruise ship industry. It was a well-attended hearing. My colleague James Walker, and his client Jennifer Hagel Smith, were sitting there in the audience watching as I was grilled about the cruise ship industry by the members of the committee. I presented a paper, and arguments that positive change needed to be made in order to require the cruise ship companies to report incidents, instead of allowing it to be voluntary as it had been for the many years I had been practicing. I shared my experience with over a thousand plus cases I had handled over the years, and made my recommendations.
I am proud to know that not only was I a part of spearheading further hearings, leading to positive legislative changes, but I also had the honor of meeting Mr. Kendall Carver during the hearing, who lost his daughter Miriam Carver, from a cruise ship. She disappeared under very suspicious circumstances while on a cruise to Alaska onboard a cruise ship the Mercury. Mr. Carver pursued the cruise ship industry for years, arguing a cover up. During the hearing, members of the committee were appalled at the story of Miriam Carver, as well as other incidents that had occurred aboard cruise ships.
I am very proud that shortly after the hearings in December of 2005, I assisted Mr. Carver in his formation of the International Cruise Victims Organization, which has been instrumental in pursing the cruise ship industry and causing positive legislative changes to require accurate disclosure of criminal activities occurring aboard the cruise ships. The organization consists of hundreds of cruise ship victims of crimes as well as their family members. Their membership spans over more than a dozen countries across the globe.
So upon reflection, I can say that as a lawyer I have been able to have an impact in a positive way within the area of law that I have been focused on for over the past 30 years. It is very rewarding to think back of not only all the victims I have helped, but to see the positive legislative changes that have occurred, and continue to occur, to make the cruise lines be less transparent to the public. Hopefully this will result in less disasters than in the past, and will save many people from being further victims of cruise ship crimes.