Conn. family hopes to solve cruise disappearance

HARTFORD — The parents of a Connecticut man who disappeared from his honeymoon cruise in 2005 said an amended settlement with the cruise line could help solve the mystery of what happened to him.

George Smith IV, of Greenwich, was aboard a Royal Caribbean ship when he vanished somewhere between Greece and Turkey on July 5, 2005, after an apparent night of drinking. His body was never found.

Smith’s widow, Jennifer Hagel Smith, reached a nearly $1.1 million settlement with Royal Caribbean in 2006. But his parents and sister filed a lawsuit challenging it as inadequate, alleging it was reached in part to avoid embarrassing disclosures about Hagel Smith’s conduct during the cruise.

The family, in a statement Tuesday, said the amended $1.3 million settlement requires the cruise line to turn over witness statements and other information from the company’s own investigation that would have remained confidential under the original deal.

“Most people involved probably other than Jennifer Hagel Smith believe pretty strongly that George was murdered,” said Michael Jones, an attorney representing Smith’s parents and sister. “If that’s the case then hopefully this documentation gives us a better indication of exactly what happened to him.”

Smith’s parents’ share of the settlement with the cruise line will increase under the new deal from about $50,000 to about $300,000, Jones said. He said that will not fully cover the amount they have spent investigating their son’s disappearance.

“Our goal from the beginning of this litigation was to find out what happened to George and bring his perpetrator(s) to justice,” his mother, Maureen Smith, said in a statement.

Hagel Smith’s attorney, Richard Sheeley, said that also is her goal, and she would welcome any new information.

“The truth is, after all this time, we have no more answers than we had at the beginning of this process,” he said. “Candidly, we don’t expect there is going to be a heck of a lot in there.”

Hagel Smith has said her husband’s relatives refuse to acknowledge the possibility that George Smith’s intoxication from alcohol and prescription drugs may have been a factor in an accidental death. She has said they instead believe Smith was a victim of foul play, despite a lack of evidence.

Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said the cruise line agreed to the settlement in the hope that it will be part of a healing process for the Smith family.

“We are confident that the disclosure of any additional information will again demonstrate that we acted properly in assisting Jennifer and the Smith family in the aftermath of their tragic loss,” she said in a statement.

Jones said the information from Royal Caribbean includes thousands of documents and boxes of videos from security cameras and interviews. He said the FBI recently reaffirmed that its criminal investigation is still open and active, and the family will provide the criminal investigators with a copy of everything.

“We’re hoping there might be additional information they don’t already have, but we won’t know that until we go through it and the FBI goes through it,” the attorney said.