In front of an Eurasian restaurant leaves are on the ground and pretty soon it will be closing time. Son Michael Pham, 53, is having curry soup, and although he tells his sad story, he does not cry. Showing emotion is a weakness in the eyes of the Vietnamese born.
His tie is carefully fastened, his shirt is crisp and white, and his fingernails are cut as meticulously as his hair.
He wants to tell his parents’ story so people understand the magnitude of their disappearance. He wants to explain what the disappearance has done to his family, and why he, a pacifist, has become a person essentially at war with the cruise industry.
“Take a look, I have three phones,” says Pham, “One for business, one for private use, and one I never turn off. That one is for the victims. It rings so often.“
It rang on January 1, 2007. It was a call from Hamburg, and the voice at the other end was in distress. The caller’s mother disappeared, just like that. They wanted to know what could be done, and to learn more about what happened.
Sabine L., 62, her husband Ludwig L., 73, and another couple boarded the Queen Elizabeth II in Southampton on December 17, 2006, for a two-week cruise. He is a retired business man and she, a housewife who likes horseback riding and golf. They have two healthy and successful sons. The cruise took them via Malaga and Gibraltar to Lanzarote (The Canary Islands), where they were excited to celebrate Christmas. Both couples, from Hamburg-Wellingsbuettel, were very social on board and often played bridge with their fellow passengers. Most of the games were won by Sabine.
One morning, Sabine took a swim in the pool while Ludwig was still asleep. The two planned to meet up again for breakfast. On December 30th, the QE2 stopped at Madeira. Sabine, who had just become a grandmother to twins, decided to do some shopping. Later, her purse got stolen, but she refused to let that spoil her good mood. Over dinner that evening, the couple discussed how excited they were that this would be their first New Year’s Eve ever spent on a cruise ship. They wanted to be well rested for it, so they went to bed at about midnight in room number 5167 on Deck 5. Ludwig slept heavily that night, so whether his wife got up once again or decided to go for a swim early the next morning, he could not know. Sabine was never to be seen again.
Over the last four years, 37 people have disappeared from cruise ships. The estimated number of unrecorded cases is higher, as a lot of missing are not recorded. The latest case occurred on December 27, 2007 in the Aegean sea, Greece. A woman from Bad Honnef was cruising with her husband on board the Costa Atlantica when she disappeared.
In Phoenix, Arizona somebody is missing, too. Kendall Carver, 71, does not believe in the myth of the sea swallowing his daughter without anybody noticing. He is about to get justice for his loved one. For that, Ken Carver fights a fight which will be difficult to win. “I may or may not change the industry but if one less dies, I’ve achieved a lot. They would have never thought a victim would go as far as I have. That somebody would spent tens of thousands of dollars for the truth“, Carver said. Fate just chose the wrong victim.
Here, in the Paradise Valley where the sun always shines, Ken and Carol Carver have made their home. But they don´t feel like they’re in paradise, more like they’re in Hell. The Carvers have a wide driveway lined with cactus plants in front of their home. They have a pool and four guest rooms for their grown daughters. The one for the oldest has not been used in years. “She will return,“ Carol says before leaving the office on the 1st floor. “She is dead, “says Ken, in tears.
On September 1, 2004 his granddaughter called. (She lives with her father in London.) He and Merrian Carver are divorced. His granddaughter had not been able to reach her Mom for two days. It would appear as though her cell phone was turned off the whole time. Ken Carver knew something was wrong. He turns to the Cambridge Police Department in Massachusetts in the hopes of finding answers. The police were able to get access to Merrian’s bank statements.
One transaction showed that she paid for a cruise on the Celebrity Mercury. (Celebrity is a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) member.) The final part of her cruise went from Seattle to Vancouver on this very popular Alaskan cruise. Carver called RCCL, and after three days, they confirmed that Merrian was indeed on board but did not return to her cabin after the second night. She was seen for the last time on August 28, 2004. It is not always unusual that passengers do not return to their cabins. There are lots of activities on board. Whether or not Merrian got off the ship in Vancouver they could not confirm. And it would not be possible to talk to a steward or security guard, and any video surveillance had already been erased.
It would be up to the FBI to investigate. Ken Carver called the FBI and also hired a large international Private Investigator Firm based in New York City. He sent private investigators on board, which were met by RCCL’s Risk Management Team. Every cruise line has a Risk Management or a Care Team to prevent possible harm, comfort relatives, and try to come to peaceful solutions. But seeing that Carver was far from being at peace, he filed a claim against RCCL.
On January 16, 2005, four and a half months after his daughter was last seen, Carver, after spending over $75,000 in lawyer and private investigators charges, was permitted by a court order to speak to the steward responsible for Merrian Carver´s cabin.