Mizener continues in midst of cruise fight

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

By Kollin Kosmicki
Waukesha Freeman (Conley)
September 20, 2006

Mizener continues in midst of cruise fight
Waukesha man lost wife after 2004 disappearance on ship

WAUKESHA – John Mizener, whose wife disappeared from a cruise ship in December 2004, certainly is not alone.

Cruise-passenger advocates are pushing for better emergency training of crew members, following the chaos that took place Tuesday aboard the Crown Princess, which tilted soon after departing Port Canaveral, and left hundreds of people injured.

Mizener, of Waukesha, is among a growing number of people worldwide who have lost family members on cruise vacations and now join together in lobbying for changes to security practices on ships and procedures for how such cases are investigated.

Mizener’s wife, Annette, then 37, was last seen on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship Dec. 4, 2004, while on vacation with family members. The FBI has overseen the investigation, which is active, but has declined to comment on its progress and has not ruled it as a crime or suicide.

Mizener offered support Tuesday for a bill proposed in Congress – the Cruise Line Accurate Safety Statistics Act – which would establish a series of rules for cruise companies requiring speedier reporting of crimes and other tightened security practices.

Such cases on cruise ships have gained attention in recent years, with most going unsolved or remaining open.

Neither cruise companies nor the federal government track statistics on disappearances from cruise ships. But other organizations and media accounts do. A Web site called Cruise Junkie counted 13 passengers going overboard so far in 2006 from cruise ships, and 47 since 2003.

“It’s hard to keep up with them now,” said Mizener, whose wife was pronounced deceased in a 2005 court ruling here.

The legislation proposed by U.S. Rep Christopher Shays, RConn., calls for the following:

cruise ship owners report crimes or persons overboard to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security no later than four hours after a ship learns of it

cruise companies submit quarterly reports on crimes or missing persons to the department, which would make such information available on the Internet

Homeland Security Department inspects each ship docked in the U.S. to assure it has adequate equipment and trained personnel.

cruise companies refer potential ticket buyers to the Internet site with cruise crime statistics

Mizener is part of the International Cruise Victims organization, and was one of its first members, lobbying in favor of the law. The organization, though it doesn’t release membership numbers, now has members in nine countries, said Kendall Carver, of Phoenix, whose daughter Merrian disappeared from an Alaskan Royal Caribbean International cruise in August 2004.

Carver founded the group with the family of a Connecticut man who disappeared from a ship in July 2005. They asked Mizener and other relatives of victims to join.

“Is it enough?” Carver said about the proposed legislation. “The answer is, it’s not enough, but it’s a starting point.”

The Carvers, like Annette Mizener’s family, have been frustrated with both the cruise line’s handling of her disappearance and the FBI’s investigation.

Carver said it took 4 1/2 months, $75,000 in legal costs and two court orders to get that cruise ship’s steward – who never initially reported someone was missing – on the record with investigators.

Mizener took his displeasure to federal court in November by suing cruise lines to improve security practices, while seeking answers to some unanswered questions about his wife’s case. Questions remain about a surveillance camera, near the deck where her purse was discovered, found with paper draped over it and beads from her purse found scattered on the deck floor.

A judge, however, tossed out the suit, a ruling Mizener is now appealing. Among the findings, the judge ruled that cruise lines don’t have a duty to monitor surveillance cameras, said Charles Lipcon, a Miami-based maritime attorney representing Mizener. Lipcon called the legislation “better than nothing.”

“I don’t think it does anything than, perhaps, get the FBI to do something,” said Lipcon, who referred to federal probes of the cases as “pretend investigations.”

Criminal activity on cruise ships is on a “dramatic rise” the past five years, Lipcon said, but he could not remember a single prosecution involving such cases by the FBI.

Mizener said he has given up trying to get information from investigators.

“They ain’t going to tell me anything, so I don’t waste my time calling them anymore,” he said.

Mizener and Carver both noted another concern with what they believe are lax security practices.

“It’s just a matter of time before terrorists figure, hey, there’s 2,500 Americans on this,” Mizener said. “It seems like anybody can get on the ships.”