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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman


Lost at Sea
What really happened?

We may never know the full story behind what became of George Smith. During his honeymoon aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, he disappeared before daylight on July 5, 2005. After a typical night on board, the ship docked in Kusadasi, Turkey and passengers reported what appeared to be a pool of blood on a ledge that overhangs the lifeboats. The ship was searched and everyone was accounted for except George. His bride Jennifer apparently was unaware of what had become of him. 

Many people have theories, but if anyone actually knows what happened, they aren't saying.

And that leads us to rumor and speculation by the Smiths' fellow passengers, the media frenzy that followed, and accusations that the cruise line covered up or washed away the evidence... the story goes on and on. It was no surprise when Connecticut Congressmen Christopher Shays stepped in to convene a hearing, spurred by the fate of his constituents and, ostensibly, regarding International Maritime Security. What was a surprise was the statement of Jennifer Hagel Smith, her first public statement since that fateful honeymoon night, in which she implied that Royal Caribbean was not sympathetic and treated her badly. 

According to Joe Scarbourgh, host of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, after a exclusive interview with Hagel Smith on December 16, 2005, "Jen was so abused by the cruise line. I mean, again, this newlywed finds out she is a widow. They throw her off the ship while she was in shock. She is interrogated in two different locations by Turkish police officers. Then she is taken to a seedy hospital. She is basically stripped-searched. She is abused by this process. She goes back to the ship. She finds out they have dumped all of their worldly possessions on this dock, now, everything that they took with them, all of their memories. And she is left there standing as the ship goes away. It is a terrible, terrible situation."

It is indeed a heartbreaking scenario, but there are two sides to every story and Royal Caribbean may not be the uncaring corporate giant they are being portrayed as. Like Hagel Smith, they are constrained in what they can make public due to the ongoing investigation, but they have made the following statement of their own to rebut allegations of their insensitivity:

"All of us at Royal Caribbean extend our deepest sympathies to Jennifer Hagel Smith and the Smith family. They have suffered an inconsolable loss, and it is totally understandable they want answers and some measure of closure regarding George Smith's disappearance. We also realize members of the family remain in deep shock and pain, and their recollections of events may not reflect what actually happened. In many cases, our computer systems and other records, which we have given to the FBI, tell a different story. 

On July 5, Jennifer was accompanied by a ship staff member--a female Guest Relations Manager--from approximately 10 a.m. to approximately 6 p.m., when she was placed in the care of a female U.S. consulate official and an FBI agent. The only time Jennifer and the Guest Relations Manager were not together was for a brief period at the Turkish police station when Jennifer was being questioned by a Turkish judge, at which point she was joined by representatives from both the U.S. Consulate and the FBI, who we had called at 10:19 a.m. (3:19 a.m. Miami time).

Several people were asked by the Turkish police to disembark the ship so they could get statements from them. Jennifer was among those being questioned. Prior to leaving the ship, however, the Captain personally spoke to Jennifer's father by phone--and in her presence--to explain what the Turkish police were requesting and to convey his offer of assistance to the family. 

Turkish police conducted two interviews with Jennifer that afternoon, once in their port offices and once in their downtown facilities. As part of their investigation, Turkish authorities also requested Jennifer undergo a brief physical exam, which was conducted at a local hospital to determine if there were any injuries or signs of a struggle. The ship's Guest Relations Manager was with Jennifer during the medical exam. It is totally understandable Jennifer was upset at being the subject of a police investigation--spouses are often questioned in investigations involving family--so we made sure she was not alone. 

After authorities completed their investigation, Jennifer was given the choice of sailing with the ship, but in another cabin since the Smith's cabin was sealed, or returning home. Jennifer said repeatedly she preferred to leave the ship. 

Royal Caribbean initially offered Jennifer assistance in making arrangements to return home, but the U.S. Consulate ultimately took this responsibility over. With Jennifer's concurrence, all of the Smith's belongings, including a wallet from their cabin safe, were delivered to U.S. Consulate staff, who, in turn, returned them to Jennifer. We also provided Jennifer with contact information for local Royal Caribbean staff in Kusadasi. At no time was Jennifer left without resources or contact information.

We continue to cooperate closely with the FBI and to observe the limitations they have asked us to respect."

So, what really happened to George Smith? Again, if anyone actually knows, they aren't saying.

MORE --> Where did Mrs. Smith spend the night? How was she found? What REALLY happened?

Details from Royal Caribbean (released 1/5/06)