Saturday 12 November 2011
Missing –woman crew member, and evidence about her disappearance.
Pic: Rebecca Coriam with parents Anne and Mike
Another woman missing from a cruise ship. Yesterday (11.11.2011) a Guardian journalist reported on what he’d found when he went looking for evidence about Rebecca Coriam, a youth activities worker on the Disney Wonder. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/nov/11/rebecca-coriam-lost-at-sea?newsfeed=true
At least 171 people have disappeared from cruise ships since 2000, but she is Disney's first. Sixteen had vanished this year alone, before Ronson set sail. By the time he got off the ship, the figure had gone up to 19.
Rebecca, an Exeter University sports science graduate from Chester, UK, vanished in March. The formal position is ‘the investigation is ongoing’ – seemingly meaning nothing is happening. Her distraught parents, who believe she was murdered, have created a website; http://www.rebecca-coriam.com.
Rebecca was last seen on CCTV camera looking distraught while taking a mobile call at 6am – and was known to be in a volatile relationship (with another young woman aboard) .
Ronson found the following things that illuminate life on cruise ships today – the non-magical, non-cute, un-Mickey Mouse context for a 'non-stop fun' brand.
• Only one police officer has ever been assigned to investigate Rebecca's disappearance, and did just one day’s on-board investigating.
• There’s official silence and denial, although the crew think something’s up. A waiter tells Ronson, '"It didn't happen. You know that's the answer I have to give.”’ ‘Melissa’, a shipmate, told the reporter that "‘After Rebecca went missing, Disney had a little ceremony. They put flowers at the wall next to the crew pool, "where they think she might have jumped from. But they didn't say. They put these flowers down but refused to answer any questions as to why… Nothing was clear."’
• There are CCTV cameras everywhere. Ronson spotted ‘four CCTV cameras on deck 4 – two on the port side, two on the starboard, evidently capturing every inch of the deck. They're hard to see at first as they're shaped like long tubes and look like some kind of nautical equipment.’ But the company say they have no CCTV footage about her death. When Ronson asks ‘Melissa’ why a shipping line would they suppress such information she replies ‘"To try to protect the brand. If it was 6am and they were doing their job and watching the front, someone must have seen her go over. Or if they didn't, they're covering up why they didn't.”’
• Crew say all phone calls are taped (so knowing about Rebecca’s call might have helped the investigation). But when Ronson asked the company if they had the tape, he was stonewalled:'"That pertains to specific details about the investigation and so it's not appropriate for us to share that kind of information."'
• The crew say life on board is ‘about the show’. Some crew members tell Ronson ‘“All the big smiles and happiness, it's all real. You couldn't act that." And "Disney wouldn't hire you if you weren't that sort of person."’But it’s a very hard job with long on-duty hours – until the kids are in bed, in fact. For background see a blog by former Wonder worker Kim Button: http://allears.net/cruise/issue404.htm. The policy of passengers getting unlimited drinks for one price on Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity, thinks Mike, Rebecca’s dad, adds to the risks of trouble aboard.
Ronson talked to Kendall Carver, who now leads a lobby group called International Cruise Victims, after his daughter died on ship.http://www.internationalcruisevictims.org/.
‘Over the phone, he told me theories of murder, negligence and cover-ups. Sometimes he sounded angry and xenophobic; at other times he was incredibly compelling… It's true that passengers on just one ship – the Carnival Valour – reported nine sexual assaults to the FBI in less than one year.
‘"In other corporations, police get involved," Carver said. "On cruise ships they have, quote, security officers, but they work for the cruise lines. They aren't going to do anything when the lines get sued.”’
Stephen Mosley Rebecca’s MP, who on 1 November raised her case in the House of Commons, said, says Ronson, that Disney was "more interested in getting the ship back to sea than in the case of a missing crew member."' Yes, it would be. Port charges cost a five-figure sum every day.
What this sad story makes clear is how much can happen because these ships are far away and - if under flags of convenience - not much supervised by others. And as the crew are numerous, young, diverse – and not even relatively effectively unionised as in the old days - then anything can happen. It’s so unlike a Disney fairy tale.
The international trade union for crew, Nautilus International, yesterday (vol 44 no 11, p.25, http://www.nautilusint.org/Resources/pages/Telegraph.aspx) wrote that the Coriams have joined the campaign advocating that the UK and EU copy the US Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010. This law applies to all cruiseships carrying over 250 passengers on international voyages that embark or disembark passengers in any US port.
Vessels are required to:
• have visitor identification peepholes on cabin doors
• set the minimum deck rail height at 42 inches
• have information packs on how to report a crime
• have examination kits for alleged rape victims onboard, as well as medication to prevent sexually transmitted diseases
• train medical staff to deal with assaults
• provide confidential access to sexual assault helplines
• keep a log of all shipboard crimes and immediately report serious incidents to the FBI or US Coast Guard
• have at least one crew member certified in maritime crime scene preservation