This weekend, 48 Hours reported on the mysterious disappearance of a cruise ship passenger whose case has yet to be closed. In the wake of two other passengers falling overboard from a Carnival cruise last week in Australia, the need to improve maritime safety regulations industry-wide is blatantly clear. Yet, the case of missing passenger George Allen Smith IV remains unsolved eight years after the tragic disappearance occurred and the cruise line on which he was sailing seems to have washed its hands of any responsibility in investigating the case.
Smith mysteriously disappeared from a cruise he was on for his honeymoon cruise nearly eight years ago. This Saturday night, 48 Hours aired a special titled “48 Hours: Murder at Sea?” interviewing Smith’s loved ones and shedding new light into the unsolved case that many are calling a crime instead of an accident.
“You can’t look at the water and the sea without remembering what happened to George,” said Maureen Smith, the victim’s mother. “It’s got too many bad memories for me now.”
Smith’s family has maintained all these years that George was murdered by several men with whom George had an argument. And now, new evidence suggests there may be some truth to the allegations. A video tape created by the same men, and which has been in the hands of the FBI for some time, shows there may in fact have been a murder at sea all those years ago.
Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas ship on July 5, 2005. Although his body was never recovered, bloodstains were found beneath the balcony of the cabin he was sharing with his new wife, Jennifer Hagel-Smith, who is now remarried.
The videotape in question was filmed by three Russian-Americans who have long been suspected of being involved in Smith’s disappearance due to their actions on July 4 and 5, before Smith was last seen. While it was reportedly filmed on the ship, shortly after Smith went missing, the video was only brought to the Smith family a few years ago.
In the video, the men film themselves joking about Smith’s death and make incriminating statements. The men first met Smith and his new wife on July 4. Everyone had been drinking and Smith and Jennifer ended up in an argument around 3:30 a.m., which resulted in Jennifer walking away alone. She ultimately passed out in a hallway.
Smith, however, stayed behind. After finding himself intoxicated a few minutes later, Smith was said to have needed the three Russian-Americans’ help returning to his cabin, and so they escorted him back, accompanied by a fourth man. The story of what happens next has been changed several times.
The Russians alleged they helped Smith back to his room, took off his shoes and put him to bed, however, passengers who were in their cabins near the scene recalled hearing a lot of noise and yelling from Smith’s stateroom around that time. One passenger even recounts hearing large objects like furniture being thrown across the room.
Another passenger reported the noise disturbance to the ship’s guest relation’s desk just after 4 a.m., but the ship’s crew did not respond until nearly half an hour later. Had they responded in time, perhaps Smith would be alive today.
At around 4:25 a.m., Smith went over the rail of his cabin’s balcony and landed several floors below on the metal awning over the lifeboats, then fell into the water. Bloodstains were discovered later that day which when tested, were determined to have been Smith’s.
The investigation appears to have been over before it even started. Ship crew members never even called Smith’s cabin to make sure everyone was ok. The next morning, crews cleaned the blood off the awning with a high-pressure hose, never even telling Jennifer about the blood stains.
But by far, the most incriminating piece of evidence in the case suggesting foul play was the video, which shows the Russian men commenting about Smith’s death, saying “we gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute, and one man was even recorded flashing gang signs, claiming “Told ya I was gangsta” and making it seem as though he was proud of what happened to Smith.
Meanwhile, the Smith family is shocked that the FBI has not pressed any charges, or at the least, interrogated the men regarding the video, especially given the fact that one of the suspects is an ex-con who served three years in prison.
George Smith IV would have turned 34 this year. Sadly, he isn’t the only cruise ship passenger whose case remains unsolved. Hundreds of passengers have gone missing from cruise ships and nothing has been done to give the victims’ loved ones justice or peace of mind.
The International Cruise Victims Association (ICV) is dedicated to helping the loved ones of passengers who have been involved in crimes at sea, especially those who have disappeared at sea. But despite the many stories that have been published regarding missing passengers and the cruise lines’ blatant cover-up of overboard accidents, incidents are still happening to this very day that prove the cruise industry doesn’t seem to care much about passenger safety.
Hopefully Smith’s story will shed some light into the hidden world of cruise lines and how – more often than not – they fail to provide a safe environment for those onboard.