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Cruise line to pay estate of missing newlywed

/ Source: The Associated Press

Royal Caribbean Cruises has agreed to pay more than $1 million to the estate of a man who vanished from his honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean in 2005, according to settlement papers filed Thursday.

A copy of the settlement agreement, which still requires court approval, indicates the Florida-based company will pay $950,000 to the estate of George Allen Smith IV and reimburse his widow, Jennifer Hagel Smith, 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, according to a copy of the settlement obtained by The Associated Press.

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

Smith, 26, of Greenwich, Connecticut, 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. 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 FBI has been investigating, but no one has been charged and no body has been recovered.

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

Hagel Smith said the settlement gives her access for the first time to records kept by Royal Caribbean, including vessel logs, security reports, door activity records, photographs, witness statements and correspondence with the FBI.

"My single goal continues to be to find answers regarding how George died," Hagel Smith said in a statement. "Reaching a settlement in this case in no way shuts down the investigation."

Hagel Smith said $100,000 will go to her attorney for investigative costs and another $60,000  will be paid to forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee to continue his investigation.

"I hope it will be recognized that my loyalty to George and his memory can never be measured in media appearances, allegations, lawsuits, or dollars and cents," said Hagel Smith, who appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

The settlement deal caused a rift with Smith's parents and sister, who 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.

The family attorney has filed an amended complaint.

The case prompted congressional hearings and new legislation to tighten requirements for reporting when passengers disappear.

Royal Caribbean shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday morning at $43.60, up 12 cents. The stock has traded between $32.47 and $46.77 over the past year.