Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lost at sea: cruise control issues

Enough smoke generated to appear above the government and media radar:
Lawmakers are set this morning to investigate the potential dangers to vacationers cruising the high seas. Two congressional committees will hold a joint hearing focusing on cruise-ship disappearances and crimes. The hearing comes on the heels of another cruise-ship disappearance in recent months, this one aboard Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Sea, which returned to Florida on Sunday with one less passenger than when it departed.

Canadian Jill Begora, 59, was last seen by her husband on Saturday morning as the ship approached the port of Nassau in the Bahamas. A search by a U.S. Coast Guard ship and the Bahamian Navy found no trace of her.

"It's just too much to comprehend," said Thomas Begora, a relative. "I hope everything's all right, but you know how these things are some times."

It is estimated that in the past two years, about a dozen people have disappeared while aboard cruise ships.

In another high-profile case, George Smith disappeared while on his honeymoon in the Mediterranean last July aboard a Royal Caribbean ship. His family is convinced that Smith was killed because witnesses heard screaming and there was blood on the ship's deck. Smith has not been found. Now his family is planning to sue Royal Caribbean, accusing the cruise line of hindering the investigation.

"We can't hold a funeral, and, you know, as far as Royal Caribbean is concerned, they would merely have another drunk falling into the water, nothing we could do about it," said Bree Smith, George's sister. "That's not good enough and we're going to make changes so this does not happen to another family."

This should serve as a friendly reminder to all those contemplating a vacation cruise. More often that not you are not on an American ship, and you visit places that care not a whit about American rights. Should anything happen, you are often on your own.

Statistically speaking, the number of the disappeared is minutely low compared to the numbers who return all smiles with sunburns, bellyaches and empty wallets.

But there is danger. That might even add spice to your trip.


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