Dec. 13, 2005 — -- 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.
"The bottom line is we are suspicious, candidly, that there's some huge problem in the cruise industry," said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn. "We think that people are not aware of some of the challenges and some of the potential problems they encounter."
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."
Royal Caribbean says that it has cooperated fully with the FBI in the Smith case and that passenger safety is its priority. In the case of Begora, the company says the ship retraced its path the morning of the disappearance. Because Begora is Canadian and the incident happened in the Bahamas, the FBI is not involved.
The congressional hearing will also touch on last month's pirate attack on a cruise ship off the coast of Somalia.