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Cruise ship mystery at sea

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Maritime Attorney James Walker sat with MSNBC-TV host Joe Scarborough Wednesday night to discuss the international search underway for newlywed George Smith IV. The honeymooner was on a cruise in the Mediterranean when he disappeared from the ship, sometime while sailing between Greece and Turkey.  He hasn't been seen or heard from since July 5.

Joe Scarborough, Host: Tell me, in a case like this, what's the chance of ever solving this case? 

James Walker, Maritime Attorney:  The chances are very slim that this is going to come to a successful investigation and conclusion.  There are lots of factors that come into play in a situation like this.  This particular cruise line, Royal Caribbean Cruises, is a Liberian corporation.  They register their business in Monrovia, Liberia, in the continent of Africa.  This particular ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, is registered in the Bahamas. 

We have a potential crime occurring in international waters between Greece and Turkey.  It's pretty much in a no-man's land right now. 

Scarborough:  Exactly, James. So, you have got this ship that's registered in Liberia.  Obviously, and they're in the middle of a civil war.  They are not going to investigate it.  Turkey and Greece aren't going to go after it. 

The FBI really doesn't have much authority to do much here.  So, again, like you said, this case is in a no-man's land.  It's up to this poor Smith family from Connecticut to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of their son.

So, it doesn't get solved.  We never find out what really happened on that fateful night, do we? 

Walker:  Well, it's going to be really the resources of this particular family, the Smith family, that's going to lead to any type of resolution for that family. 

You know, the only time Monrovia, Liberia, is in the news is when there's a civil war, when the rebels are firing their AK-47s.  The Bahamas will not get involved.  Liberia will not get involved. 
There's some suggestion that a Turkish judge may be exercising jurisdiction over this.  The cruise line says that it reported this incident to the FBI, but that may mean just one or two agents having an open file. 

Scarborough: This is my problem with the investigation.  I understand the investigation was run by a person who actually defends cruise ships.  And the most shocking thing is that you actually had people that stepped forward.  They, first of all, look at that balcony.  Listen, that goes up to somebody's chest.  They are not going to have a couple of drinks and fall over.  Which is what we were led to believe in the beginning.

Also, there's somebody who stepped forward.  It's been reported in the Connecticut paper.  They heard screams that night.  They found blood on the awning the next morning.  They reported it to authorities, and nobody got back to them for five days.  Could it be that possibly the problem here is that we have got people that are going to end up defending the cruise line being the first ones on board investigating the cruise line? 

Walker:  We have probably 40, 45 cases where we have represented passengers who have been victims on cruise ships, many of the ships being Royal Caribbean Cruise ships.  The first investigation that's done is done by the in-house private investigators who are on the ship. 

Many cases, the defense attorneys, who subsequently defend any case filed by the passenger's family, actually fly out to the next port.  That's particularly true in the Caribbean. 
And they can actually beat the cruise ship to the next port, and, quite often, the defense attorneys for the cruise lines are the first people up the gangway that—and they will conduct an investigation.  As you know, attorneys have an ethical obligation to zealously represent their client.  So, these attorneys are conducting an investigation solely to defend the cruise line.  And quite often...

Scarborough:  And that's their responsibility.  And you are exactly right, James.  Their responsibility is to defend their client, to be advocates for their client, not to be advocates for the family of this poor young man who may have passed away.