Cruise line to pay estate of missing man

Friday, January 5, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Royal Caribbean Cruises has agreed to pay more than $1 million to the estate of a Connecticut man who vanished from his honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean, according settlement papers to be filed Thursday. George Allen Smith IV disappeared after a night of heavy drinking aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas as it sailed between Greece and Turkey on July 5, 2005. Bloodstains were found on a canopy that covers lifeboats, and the FBI has been investigating, but no one has been charged and no body has been recovered. "My single goal continues to be to find answers regarding how George died," Smith's widow, Jennifer Hagel Smith, said in a statement.

"Reaching a settlement in this case in no way shuts down the investigation."

She said the settlement deal gives her access for the first time to records kept by the cruise line, including vessel logs, security reports, door activity records, photographs, witness statements and correspondence with the FBI.

A copy of the settlement agreement, which still requires court approval, indicates the Florida-based cruise company will pay $950,000 to Smith's estate and reimburse his widow for legal costs up to $110,000. It says Hagel Smith will start a fund in memory of her husband with an initial donation of $25,000 that the cruise line will match.

The agreement was to be filed Thursday afternoon in Greenwich Probate Court. Royal Caribbean and Hagel Smith reached the settlement in June, but terms were not disclosed until Thursday.

The cruise line denies any wrongdoing and does not admit to any liability for Smith's disappearance in the settlement with Hagel Smith. Royal Caribbean said when it reached the settlement with Hagel Smith that it wanted to "provide closure and move forward."

The settlement deal caused a rift with Smith's parents and sister, who had sued Royal Caribbean, accusing the company of a cover-up that hindered the investigation.

The lawsuit, which was dismissed in November, had argued that Royal Caribbean delayed reporting the incident to the FBI and instead contacted Turkish authorities, knowing they would be unable to conduct a thorough investigation.

When Royal Caribbean did contact the FBI, employees failed to tell authorities about loud noises and arguing voices in Smith's cabin that night and the discovery of blood inside and outside the cabin, the lawsuit said.

The family's attorney has filed an amended complaint.

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 when passengers disappear.

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