STAMFORD, Conn – The family of a Connecticut man who disappeared from his honeymoon cruise a year ago filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing the cruise operator of trying to cover up the incident.
George Allen Smith IV, 26, of Greenwich vanished July 5 from a Royal Caribbean ship in the Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey after an apparent late night of drinking. The FBI has been investigating, but no one has been charged and no body has been recovered.
Authorities have called Smith's disappearance suspicious. Blood stains were found on a canopy that covers life boats.
"The cruise line deliberately and intentionally portrayed the incident as an accident, and hampered a full-blown, appropriate investigation into the facts and circumstances of George A. Smith's death," the lawsuit states.
Royal Caribbean officials denied the allegations.
"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," the company said.
Royal Caribbean delayed reporting the incident to the FBI, deciding instead to report the case to Turkish authorities knowing they would be unable to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Miami, said Brett Rivkind, the attorney for Smith's sister and parents. Jennifer Hagel-Smith is Smith's wife.
When Royal Caribbean did contact the FBI, employees failed to tell authorities about loud noises and arguing in Smith's cabin and the discovery of blood inside and outside the cabin, the lawsuit contends.
The family also accused Royal Caribbean of contaminating a potential crime scene by sending crew members into the cabin to investigate and take photos and by cleaning the blood on the canopy. Attorneys for the company tried to manipulate the wording of statements by witnesses, the lawsuit alleges.
"Despite evidence of a potential murder scene, the cruise line company destroyed material evidence prior to an FBI investigation, and otherwise tampered or contaminated the crime scene, all due to a deliberate and intentional course of conduct designed to protect their self interests, which included protecting their public image, as well as their exposure to civil liability," the lawsuit states.
Royal Caribbean said employees only cleaned the blood after receiving permission from authorities and took immediate steps to preserve the scene, including sealing the cabin.
The FBI's normal practice is to defer to local authorities, Royal Caribbean said. Investigators conducted a complete forensic investigation onboard the ship, Royal Caribbean said.
Jennifer Hagel-Smith was found passed out on a floor far from the couple's cabin, the cruise line has said. She says she has no recollection of what happened and has said she passed an FBI polygraph test.
The case prompted Congressional hearings and new legislation to tighten requirements for reporting to authorities when passengers disappear.