true crime

'The guest has not yet been found.' The mysterious world of cruise ship deaths.

There’s something that fascinates us all about disappearances from cruise ships. One minute, a passenger’s enjoying the luxury of the cruising experience, and the next minute, they’ve been lost to the cold vastness of the ocean.

On the weekend, another report of a passenger disappearing from a cruise ship hit the headlines. This time it was a 63-year-old woman from South Korea who went missing from the Norwegian Epic in between France and Majorca. She was last seen sitting on her balcony at 1am Saturday, wearing pink pyjamas.

When her family woke up and realised she’d gone missing, the ship turned around and returned to the place where she’d last been seen. Passengers were asked to look for her, and a helicopter joined the search.

“There were maybe a couple of hundred passengers looking for a while,” British tourist Angelia Elliott told The Sun. “I think in the end, most passengers sadly realised that there would not be much hope of her being found alive after all that time in the water.”

A spokesperson for the Norwegian Epic put out a statement.

“Sadly, the guest has not yet been found,” the statement read. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the individual’s family during this difficult time.”

So how often do people disappear from cruise ships?

A spokesperson from Cruise Lines International Association tells Mamamia that in 2018, there were 13 instances of passengers overboard worldwide, from a total of 28.5 million people who took a cruise that year.

“Publicly available data shows that incidents of man overboard on cruise ships are rare and have been the unfortunate result of intentional acts or, in some cases, reckless behaviour,” the spokesperson explains. “There are no known cases of someone acting responsibly who has accidentally fallen over the railing of a cruise ship. Safety regulations such as uniform, minimum railing and balcony heights, structural barriers and other requirements prevent passengers who are acting responsibly from falling.”

Over the years, disappearances from cruise ships have led to inquests, trials, TV movies and episodes of Dr Phil. Here are some of the most memorable ones.

Amy Bradley.

cruise ship murders
Image: FBI.

Lifeguard Amy Bradley went on a Caribbean cruise with her brother and parents in March 1998. After a night of drinking in the ship’s dance club, Bradley’s father Ron saw her asleep in a chair on the cabin balcony. By the next morning, she had disappeared. The ship docked soon afterwards at Curacao, Antilles, and an extensive search took place, but she was never found.

Over the next few years, there were reported sightings of Bradley in various Caribbean locations, including a brothel. Her disappearance was featured on several US TV shows.

“We have reason to believe that Amy was kidnapped and possibly sold into the sex slave market somewhere on one of the Islands,” her father said on Dr Phil.

George Smith IV.

cruise ship murder
Image: Smith family missing person report.

In July 2005, George Smith IV was on his honeymoon cruise in the Aegean Sea with his new bride Jennifer when he disappeared. Smith had been drinking and gambling in the ship’s casino in the hours beforehand, and another passenger claimed to have heard men arguing on the balcony of the couple’s cabin. The next morning, Smith was missing and bloodstains could be seen. The ship’s captain believed Smith accidentally fell overboard, but his family didn’t agree.

"I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that my son was murdered on that cruise ship," Smith’s mother Maureen told CBS News.

Smith’s disappearance was turned into a TV movie, Deadly Honeymoon.


Micki Kanesaki.

cruise ship murders
Image: Orange County Sheriff's Department.

American couple Lonnie Kocontes and Micki Kanesaki were already divorced when they went on a cruise together in the Mediterranean in May 2006. Kanesaki disappeared, with Kocontes claiming she’d gone to make a cup of tea and he’d never seen her again. Her body was found in the sea two days later. She had been strangled.

By the time Kanesaki’s body was found, Kocontes was already back in the US. He’d taken up with another woman, who he went on to marry. Her testimony helped convince investigators that Kocontes had nothing to do with his former wife’s death. However, she later changed her story, and in 2013, Kocontes was charged with Kanesaki’s murder.

Kristen Schroder and Paul Rossington.

cruise ship murders
Image: Supplied.

NSW couple Kristen Schroder and Paul Rossington had been dating for less than a year when they went on a cruise together in May 2013. The night before the ship was due to dock in Sydney, both disappeared. CCTV footage shows them arguing in the casino before returning to their cabin. Infrared footage reveals that Schroder climbed over the railing of the fifth-level cabin’s balcony, then slipped, hitting her head as she fell 20m into the ocean. Soon afterwards, Rossington, a paramedic, went after her, performing a “safety dive”.

Detective Sergeant Michael O’Keefe told an inquest that Rossington had shown “supreme courage”.

“He must have known that jumping out would most likely end up with him losing his life,” Sgt O’Keefe said.

Xing Lei Li.

cruise ship murder
Image: Supplied.

In February 2017, Xing Lei Li, her husband Daniel Belling and their two children boarded a Mediterranean cruise. But 10 days later, only Belling – a Dublin-based IT consultant – and the children got off. Belling said Li had left the ship in Greece, taking the opportunity to run away and leave the children behind, something she’d been wanting to do for years. However, she hadn’t taken her phone and wallet with her.

Belling was arrested by Italian authorities, who suspected he had killed his wife and thrown her body overboard. After spending more than a year in jail, he was released.

“I have been in jail for 14 months accused of something which I didn’t do and now I want to see my children and clear my name,” he said at the time.

Belling is now living in Ireland and facing unrelated fraud charges.