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Rita Cosby with Capt. Bill Wright, “We did not collect the evidence from the cabin”

Rita Cosby, Live & Direct, January 6, 2006

We are now joined by Captain Bill Wright of Royal Caribbean cruises. He is the Royal Caribbean senior vice president of operations. Captain, I thank you for being with us. This new development that her attorney—this is Jennifer Hagel’s attorney—saying she may have been drugged…


COSBY: Is there any evidence that there was drugs on the ship, legal or illegal?

WRIGHT: Absolutely none. From our perspective, we have heard nothing that indicates there was any drug usage by the Smiths or there were any drugs on board the vessel.

COSBY: No evidence at this point at all?

WRIGHT: Nothing we’re aware of.

COSBY: Would you know if there was something in there, even if it’s, say, in the bathroom, in the room, in the cabin?

WRIGHT: We did not collect the evidence from the cabin. So whatever was in there that the police have collected, that’s with the police. But there was nothing that we indicate that we have had any forms of drugs on the ship and being used.

COSBY: There is no evidence at all, at this point?

WRIGHT: No evidence at all, at this point.

COSBY: OK. There’s also some other information that just came through. Two witnesses are saying that Jennifer Hagel-Smith kicked George in the groin, that they saw it, that they were drinking what’s called absinthe, and this is something that is called legal, I’m told, in Europe and other countries overseas—not legal. It’s a very, very strong liquor, right?


COSBY: Do you have evidence that they were drinking absinthe?.

WRIGHT: Yes. We have—I shouldn’t say evidence, but we have also heard that there are individuals, guests who were on board, who observed them drinking absinthe.

COSBY: Did you—now, how—to what degree? Were they drunk with this stuff?

WRIGHT: No, that I have no opinion on. But we know that they were, from the comments that the guests have come with, that they were drinking absinthe. And it needs to be emphasized that the absinthe is a liquor that is not sold on board our vessels, although it is legally available in many European countries.

COSBY: So are you saying that they probably brought it on board?

WRIGHT: They would have to have brought it on board.

COSBY: And that is legal, though, because the ship went overseas, right?

WRIGHT: Ship is overseas. It’s cruising in the Mediterranean. But it’s not sold on our ship and not served on our ship.

COSBY: So they would have had to bring it on…

WRIGHT: Correct.

COSBY: … individually.

WRIGHT: Correct.

COSBY: How do you know that there was absinthe involved? Were the—just from eyewitness reports?

WRIGHT: Simply from the eyewitness reports.

COSBY: What about word, too, that there was fighting, contentiousness? I’d heard this before, that there were some sort of arguments earlier in the night.

WRIGHT: That I have not heard.

COSBY: You have not heard that at all.

WRIGHT: Have not heard that.

COSBY: Let me show also—this is a comment from Jennifer Hagel-Smith. She’s been making some comments recently, as you know, to the press. And she has been, you know, pretty critical of your cruise line, Captain. She even has said some comments, particular comments pointing specifically about why they maybe didn’t do certain things, your cruise line. She said, “It’s so close in time that it’s haunting to think about it now, if the security had talked to each other, maybe they could have figured it out.” What she’s suggesting is that earlier in the night, the timeline of events—earlier in the night, essentially, there was obviously that report of a noise in the room.

WRIGHT: Right.

COSBY: Crew members apparently went by. What, it stopped right at this point? But then, as we’re looking at it now, at 4:30 in the morning, less than half an hour later, she’s found sleeping in the hallway. The two crew members go to the cabin, no one’s inside. Then they go get her. George isn’t there, basically put her to bed.

In hindsight now, you look at the event, loud thump on the room or loud noise or whatever we’re hearing in the room, different accounts, then we’re also hearing later also other accounts that she’s picked up in the cabin. Sounds like it was minutes later, possibly, had they really checked in the room and really looked at what that noise might have been.

WRIGHT: Fair enough. Fair enough. The facts are is that the complaint regarding the noise was from the guest in the adjacent cabin, was a specific noise complaint. The guest described that there’s a party going on, a loud party on. When the security came up, the party was over. There was no noise. There was no indication that anything was amiss, OK. That’s the first…

COSBY: Did it appear to be sort of just a standard…

WRIGHT: Absolutely. It was a completely normal cabin, or at least from the outside because they did not go in. When Jennifer Hagel-Smith was found sleeping, unconscious on the corridor floor, the same deck that her cabin was on, by two maintenance workers, they called immediately security, according to procedure. Security came to the scene, was immediately in touch with the medical facility. Medical facility said, Well, try to wake her up. They touched her shoulder. They took a cold rag. She immediately woke up. She was conversant. She was saying from—immediately that, I’m OK. I’d like to go back to my cabin.

By procedure, we said, Well, wait. You know, just let’s—you’ve been sleeping. Let’s—let’s—we’ll go up and see if there’s somebody in your cabin that can perhaps help you. That’s when we sent the two security guards up to the cabin, thinking that perhaps there was another occupant who could come down and escort her up, with respect for her. They went to the cabin, knocked on the door, no answer, went into the cabin.

COSBY: Did they turn the lights on?

WRIGHT: Nobody was there.

COSBY: Did they turn the lights on, do you know?

WRIGHT: I don’t know that specifically. I would…

COSBY: Because it’s been reported…


WRIGHT: I would assume that they did. I would assume that they did. But they went to the cabin, went in, looked, nobody’s there, came back. As a result of that, then we escorted her back to the cabin with two security guards, one of whom was a female security guard.

COSBY: Obviously, you know, there’s been a lot of comments in the last week or two from Royal Caribbean, from your company, including the captain, who was on the ship. He did an interview with Dan Abrams. I want to show what he had to say about why he’s no longer a captain.


DAN ABRAMS, HOST, “THE ABRAMS REPORT”: Did this have anything to do with your retirement?

MICHAEL LACHTARIDIS, FORMER ROYAL CARIBBEAN CAPTAIN: No. My retirement was planned two years ago.

ABRAMS: So you didn’t get pushed out? You didn’t…

LACHTARIDIS: No, no, no.


COSBY: Is that right?


COSBY: Was he pushed out?

WRIGHT: No, absolutely not.

COSBY: And it’s a little suspicious…


COSBY: … when this high-profile thing happens…

WRIGHT: Captain Lachtaridis has been with us for, I believe it’s almost 30 years. And this was a planned retirement. I think he was not looking forward to it, having a whole life at sea. But this was absolutely nothing that was a result of this incident.

COSBY: Do you believe the captain handled the investigation correctly? He right away, and according to logs that we reported earlier this week, said, It’s an accident.

WRIGHT: No. I think he absolutely handled the investigation correctly. If you look…

COSBY: Saying it’s an accident right away, not even (INAUDIBLE)

WRIGHT: No, he filed a report to the Bahamas that’s a required report. It’s called a Maritime Casualty Report. In that report, you have a series of checkboxes, where you can try to explain what happened. And he has—it’s a required report. He has to file it, and it has to be filed by the master (ph). At the time he filed that report, with the information he had available, that was his best opinion of what took place.

COSBY: Blood on the canopy, it’s an accident?

WRIGHT: That was his best opinion of what took place.

COSBY: Is he on a professional investigator?

WRIGHT: That was at that point. He’s required to file the document.

That was his best opinion at that point in time.

COSBY: So you think he made a mistake, clearly.

WRIGHT: No. I think that right now, we don’t know. We do not know today—certainly, we do not.

COSBY: It was an isolated accident. Shouldn’t he have said unknown?

WRIGHT: We certainly—no. We certainly do not know today, nor did he know at that time, what the cause was. There is not an “unknown” category on that form. So he made his best guess, and that was—that form, I believe, was filed also on July 9.

But going back to your question, as far as did he follow correct procedures? Absolutely. Within—the bloodstain was noticed at 8:30 by a guest. The captain was immediately on scene. He secured that area because he didn’t know if it definitely was blood, but it was close enough, so he said, This needs to be secured. He’s thinking, OK, we have cabins above here with balconies. Somebody could have fallen over. Let’s check these cabins.

Through that process, that’s how he was able to determine that George and Jennifer Smith, at that point in time, were missing, could not account for them, along with another guest. We were paging them and everything. When they identified that the Smiths were missing—and their cabin was directly above that stain—he secured the cabin. The cabin remained secured for six more days.

COSBY: But the blood was removed pretty quickly.

WRIGHT: For six more days. I’ll get to that. At 9:45 — again, first indication, 8:30. At 9:45, the ship, the captain, informed the Turkish police and informed the United States Embassy. They continued searching, continued paging. One hour later, a little after 10:00 o’clock, they informed—through the Miami office, our Miami office, they informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they remained in contact throughout the day and up until this day, in fact, with the federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Turkish police came on board. They conducted a full forensic investigation of both the canopy with the stain and the cabin. There was, coincidentally, a vacationing federal FBI agent…

COSBY: Who’s in Turkey.

WRIGHT: … in Kusadasi – in Kusadasi. He, together with the U.S. counselor (ph), participated and liaisoned with the Turkish police department in both what—the interviews that they conducted with both Jennifer and other guests and crew members, and also in the fact of the investigation that was ongoing.

COSBY: You know, now that you look at it, though—now that we have more information available…

WRIGHT: Right. Right.

COSBY: … and of course, hindsight’s 20/20, but is it possible you let a murderer go free? You let the ship sail.

WRIGHT: There was nothing—there was nothing at that point that indicated a murder. There was blood, yes, and there was a missing person. But the Turkish authorities, the FBI were fully aware that the ship was departing at 7:00 o’clock that evening. They finished their forensic investigation at 2:30, and they said, We’re finished. We turn the site over to you. The captain inquired, What…


COSBY: Did Turkish police say it was an accident? Did they…

WRIGHT: No. It would have been inappropriate to draw a conclusion at that point. They had gathered the evidence that they felt they needed.

COSBY: Then how could the captain make that conclusion? I would think he doesn’t have as much experience as Turkish authorities.

WRIGHT: The captain did what he thought was correct, OK? It’s a required form that has to be filled out. He filled it out, and he put in “accident.” This was on the 9th. And that was his call. It’s not a form that the company should fill out. It’s not a form that the Turkish police should fill out. He had to fill it out, and he made his best guess. And that in no way impeded the expensive investigation that the Turkish police conducted. The fact that the FBI had been informed virtually immediately, along with the United States embassy, that an FBI agent liasoned with the Turkish police, and at the end of their forensic investigation, they turned, with the FBI’s knowledge, the site back to the ship. The captain inquired several times, Well, what does that mean, turning it back to me? Well, can I clean it? Can I clean the cabin? I mean, do we have to preserve anything? We are finished.

COSBY: That was according to Turkish authorities.

WRIGHT: That—We are finished—with the liaison of the FBI.

COSBY: Do you think now, in hindsight—in fairness to your company, do you think the Turkish authorities dropped the ball?


COSBY: Because they closed the books (INAUDIBLE) wash the evidence.

WRIGHT: No. No. The evidence is there in the FBI. All of that evidence has been given to the FBI.

COSBY: What do you think if—and again, we don’t know what happened to George, and of course, his family desperately wants answers, like any family would do.

WRIGHT: Of course.

COSBY: What do you surmise, at this point, may have happened? Do you believe more likely it was an accident? Or do you think he may have been targeted—did he win money at the casino?

WRIGHT: It’s clearly not my position or our company’s position, and it never has been, to speculate on what happened to George Smith.

COSBY: Did he win money at the casino that night?

WRIGHT: I don’t have that information.

COSBY: If he were to have been murdered, is there any motivation that you could see at all, based on any of the other passengers or anyone else on board?

WRIGHT: Nothing I know of. And again, it’s not appropriate for me to speculate on that.

COSBY: Thank you very much. And we appreciate you being with us, Captain.

WRIGHT: Thank you very much.


WRIGHT: Sorry Miami is so cold.

COSBY: No, I know! I thought I was coming here for warm weather.

Thanks a lot.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

COSBY: Captain Wright, thank you very much.

January 10th, 2006 at 10:43pm Posted by | Cruise ship, George Allen Smith IV, Missing, Missing Adult | no comments

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