Video: The Captain Speaks!
updated 1/5/2006 2:43:07 PM ET 2006-01-05T19:43:07

Thursday marked six months since Connecticut resident George Smith IV disappeared from his honeymoon cruise.  His family and many others believe that he was murdered on the ship in the Mediterranean.

On Wednesday, MSNBC's Dan Abrams talked to the Royal Caribbean ship captain who led that journey. Abrams asked Captain Michael Lactardis about two men who had associated with Smith who were kicked off the Royal Caribbean ship after an accused rape a few days after Smith disappeared.

--Begin video clip from 'The Abrams Report'--

DAN ABRAMS:  And a few days after George Smith went missing, those same young men...  


ABRAMS:  ... were accused of raping...

LACHTARIDIS:  Well this is...

ABRAMS:  ... a woman on the boat? 

LACHTARIDIS:  ... this is under investigation, I cannot say more about this. 

ABRAMS:  They were kicked off the boat, weren‘t they?

LACHTARIDIS:  Yes, they were kicked off the boat.

ABRAMS:  Why did you decide to kick them off the boat?

LACHTARIDIS:  Because this was—this accusation too much now.  I mean, you have like pre-warning.  You have a warning and then you cannot hold them any more.  That‘s it. ... Even the Italian police, they say that for them was not a case.

ABRAMS:  What do you mean?

LACHTARIDIS:  Was not a rape case for them.

--End video clip from 'The Abrams Report'--

Later in the evening, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough spoke with Maritime Attorney Jack Hickey and also former Connecticut prosecutor Susan Filan about the latest developments in the case, including this interview.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Jack, what's your take on this captain coming out and not only talking about these Russians that were kicked off the ship, but also going into details about the honeymooners and seeming to blame Jennifer for a lot of the things that went on, you know, her being found upstairs, and apparently trashing both of these young people? 

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME ATTORNEY:  Well, I think it's interesting, Joe.  And you have to take into account the fact that Royal Caribbean is offering up the captain for interview, and there must be a reason for that.  You know, there must be a reason for that.  I of course wonder how was he prepared?  Who did he talk to?  Did he talk to the lawyers for Royal Caribbean before he went on?  So I have those questions.  The second thing is...

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait.  You say you have those questions.  Do you really have any doubt that this captain talked to Royal Caribbean? 

HICKEY:  No, I don't.  I don't have that doubt.  It would be interesting to hear him say it.
But the other thing  ... it's very interesting what he said.  He said when he was asked about ... 'Did you throw these guys off the ship ...' He said, 'Yes, we did,' something like, 'We had too much on them now,' something like that. 

I'm not quoting it verbatim, but he said something like that, as if-and I don't know-but from what he just said, I'm taking it that he suspected that maybe they were involved in the George Smith incident and then had evidence that they were involved, these Russians were involved in the alleged date rape that we have heard about. 

So, I'm thinking-and I'm just-I'm summarizing or I'm gleaning from the couple of statements that we just heard-that maybe-that he had both of these things together, despite Royal Caribbean's sort of implication that, hey, maybe that was an accident. 


HICKEY:  Maybe George Smith just fell over. 


SCARBOROUGH:  So this captain is actually piecing the two together, like you said.  And he's certainly-if he was thinking this was the final straw, connecting the first incident with the second, he's certainly not thinking that George just threw himself off the ship.
HICKEY:  That's right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But the captain also had some interesting things to say about where he said Jennifer Hagel was the night that George disappeared.  Listen to that. 

--Begin video clip from 'The Abrams Report'--

LACHTARIDIS:  She-corridor on deck nine, far from her cabin.  And then they escort her to her cabin...

ABRAMS:  She was literally sleeping in the middle of the hall?

LACHTARIDIS:  Sleeping in the hall, yes.

ABRAMS:  Sleeping meaning she was drunk?

LACHTARIDIS:  I don't know.  She was sleeping.  They were found here asleep.  So and then the report say that they took a wheelchair to bring her to the cabin.

--End video clip from 'The Abrams Report'--

SCARBOROUGH:  And this is what Jennifer Hagel told me about that night. 

Well, actually, you know, before we do that, Susan, let me ask you why you think Royal Caribbean is coming out now, having the captain coming out, presenting these details about Jennifer Hagel sleeping in the hall? 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Well, I think it's very interesting, Joe.  I'm suspicious about the timing of it, certainly after you had Jennifer Hagel Smith on your show and did your exclusive interview with her.  I'm wondering if they're just coming under too much heat.  And, certainly, your show has put a lot of attention on this.  We know that Congressman Shays has gone to Capitol Hill to try to get some legislation to bring attention to people and try to change the way cruise ships operate, which is pretty much autonomously, sometimes irresponsibly and certainly in this case I think problematically. 

So, for him to be coming forward now I think is very interesting.  But the bottom line is what he is saying corroborates what sources close to law enforcement have been saying from day one.  Jennifer Hagel Smith wasn't in the cabin when George and the two Russians and the California teen went back to escort him, when he was too drunk to get in the cabin himself.

And law enforcement sources have also said that she wasn't in the cabin because she was passed out somewhere on the cruise ship.  So, the captain is essentially corroborating what we know from sources close to law enforcement. 

The only difference-and I think you're going to get into this more a little bit later-is, it seems that the captain is alluding to this much more an as accident, rather than foul play.  And that's where these stories diverge.  And that's why I think the timing is pretty suspicious.  I think Royal Caribbean is getting a little bit scared now and is trying to put their own spin through the media to try to pull back some of the very negative publicity that's been generated by them because of their own actions.  It's their own fault. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And what about this new crime, again, that they're talking about?  What's the significance about these Russians that allegedly were suspected of this date rape crime? 

FILAN:  Again, Joe, this corroborates exactly what sources close to law enforcement have been saying all along.  The Russians were implicated in the disappearance the night before. 

The very next day, a very serious allegation of gang rape is made by a young woman.  And who's involved?  Who is at the center of this controversy?  Again, it's the Russians.  And this was videotaped.  The fact that the Italian police didn't let her continue with the complaint or that she recanted, we don't know which it is.  We do know that she did recant.  She did rescind her complaint.

It may be because the Italian authorities told her she didn't have a case.  Whatever.  That's really not what is significant here.  What is significant here is, the night before, George disappears.  The next day, the Russians are at the center of a very serious controversy surrounding the gang rape of a young woman. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Jack, again, the cruise industry, for a very long time, have been accused of trying to sweep these type of crimes under the table.  Do you think there's a connection here? 

HICKEY:  Well, yes. 

I think there's a connection here, exactly.  And, you know, the FBI's statement-and I have that right here-from Congressman Shays' hearing says that, in the last five years, there's like 303 crimes like this, the overwhelming majority of which being sexual assault and physical assault on cruise ships. 

And that's just what the cruise lines has reported to the FBI.  And they did that, they do that because, basically, the passengers, in certain situations, are going to go to the FBI anyway.  But, yes, absolutely that's what's being done here.  They're trying sweep it under the carpet.  But, again, I say the statement of the captain is an implicit admission that there is a connection in his mind between the George Smith incident and the subsequent date rape, which means that Royal Caribbean really does not think it's an accident.  ... And that is the bottom line. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That is the bottom line.  And that's what I think is going to be significant as we move forward on this case. 

Catch 'Scarborough Country' each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET

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