Articles Tagged with George Smith disappearance

MIAMI, Florida–In a very strange case, a man employed as an IT consultant, who was on a cruise with his wife and two small children, was arrested in Rome, Italy, where he is suspected of the murder of his wife during an 11-day Mediterranean cruise aboard the passenger cruise ship MSC Magnifica, operated by MSC Cruises.

rome-airport-229x300At the end of the cruise, the husband and the two children left the vessel and were at Rome’s airport waiting for their flight home to Dublin when the arrest occurred. Authorities were suspicious because the tracking of the passengers showed that the wife had never left the cruise ship and had never been reported missing by her husband. After some questioning of the young children, as well as other reports that surfaced regarding an interaction with a gift shop employee and the couple, Belling was arrested in Rome for the suspected murder of his wife.

His attorney has stated that there is an explanation for the disappearance of his wife and the reason it was not reported. This was discussed at the preliminary hearing this past Friday, where Mr. Belling said his wife was not enjoying the cruise and assumed she just went back home to Ireland, as she had done on past family vacations. However, the judge ruled that Mr. Belling should remain in custody because of his “suspect” behavior and the risk that he would leave Italy if released.

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cruiseI started working on maritime cases in 1982. Since then, the number of cruise ships have multiplied significantly, and the sizes of the cruise ships have grown to sizes that would never have been anticipated many years ago. These mega cruise ships can now hold thousands of passengers in addition to the thousands of crew member they employ. Of course, with the increasing size of cruise ships and number of passengers, there has been an increasing number of crimes occurring on board cruise ships, which have included rapes, sexual assaults, theft, murder and other criminal offenses.

When I first started, there was very little acknowledgment of problems regarding cruise ship safety. As time went on, it was believed that cruise ships tried to sweep under the carpet any criminal activity that was occurring aboard their cruise ships in order to maintain their public image and reputation for being “fun ships.” It was bad for their public relations for the public to be aware that these types of crimes were occurring on board cruise ships, and that minors were many times the victims. Surprisingly, there was no mandatory requirements for the cruise ship companies to disclose or report crimes aboard their foreign flagged cruise ships.

fishingboatIn an amazing story, it has been reported that a passenger from Shangai, who fell overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise from Japan to China, has lived to tell the tale. Last Wednesday, August 10th, the 32-year-old woman fell overboard when she leaned too far over a guard railing, falling four decks into the water. This is equivalent to about seven stories. Normally, the fall alone is enough to kill someone. Here is the first miracle; she survived the fall without any injury.

Once overboard, the chances of survival are also very slim, unless the cruise line detects the passenger going overboard promptly. In this case the cruise line did not detect that a passenger had gone overboard, so there were no immediate rescue efforts. Here is the second miracle; she survived 38 hours drifting at sea.

How did this 32-year-old female passenger survive? She reports that she stayed above the ocean water, and swam away from any large vessels she saw, because she was smart enough to know that she could be overcome by the wakes, or sucked into the propellers.  Amazingly, she survived for 38 hours before she was rescued by a fishing boat Friday morning.

shipIt was on July 5, 2005 that George Smith IV disappeared during his honeymoon cruise with his new bride, Jennifer Hagel Smith.

The couple went on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, for a honeymoon cruise. However, disaster struck. The couple met up with a group of passengers they started drinking with, and then mysteriously George Smith was discovered missing.

It was indeed strange and suspicious circumstances. Reports were that Jennifer and George had been drinking, and in fact George had consumed some very strong shots of Absinthe. It was reported Jennifer and George had an argument that evening.

What was discovered next is shocking. There was a report of arguing in the Smith cabin, as if fighting was going on. Sounds of furniture moving was heard by passengers in the next cabin. Reports of a struggle surfaced and security was called. However, security came and left and nothing was discovered at that time.

The next morning Jennifer, who had been taken back to the cabin sometime early in the am, and placed in the bed (she was discovered passed out somewhere else on the ship), and George was not there. Jennifer didn’t think much of George not being there and went to a beauty salon appointment that morning.
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congresI’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.
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Friday night “a small and short-lived engine fire” occurred aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. The ship was on its way back to Port Everglades from St Maarten when the fire broke out at about 7:45 p.m. The fire was immediately extinguished and no injuries were reported. In addition, the fire did not delay the voyage. Sadly this is not the first time this has occurred. During a hearing before the U.S. Senate last month following the Costa Concordia disaster, Ross A. Klein, PhD, who is a leading authority in the cruise area, testified saying that since 1990, 79 cruise ships have experienced a fire.

Only a month ago another Royal Caribbean Cruise the Azamara Quest experienced a fire in its engine room which disabled the ship. In addition, the Costa Allegra also experienced a fire which left it floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean until it could be towed to the Seychelles.

Although none of the fires discussed above resulted in serious injuries or deaths, this is not always the case. Our firm previously represented the families from the Scandinavian Star who lost loved ones in a fire aboard a cruise ship. 159 people died.

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