Ken Carver wrote letter after letter to RCCL and received no reply. The investigation came up with an internal email from the ship, setting up the cover-up the third week after Merrian was reported missing. When Ken Carver tried to talk to the supervisor he found out that RCCL had transferred him to Greece following the cruise. When he found him there, Carver was told that he had no right to investigate in Greece and to leave the man alone. His attempts to find out anything more about what happened to his daughter were futile.
Behind his glasses tears of anger appear in his sad eyes. Every time he weeps during our interview, his voice disappears into a whisper which further reveals his frustration. “Why,” he says, “why would they try to cover it up if it was supposed to be a suicide? That does not make sense.”
It doesn't make sense either to long-time cruise specialist Dr. Ross Klein, professor of sociology at the University of Newfoundland, Canada. For him, Merrian Carver and Sabine L. appear to be collateral damage in an industry too big for its own good.
The cruise line boom began in the U.S. in the mid 1970’s and spread worldwide soon thereafter. Back then, the television show The Love Boat was watched by more then 50 million viewers per episode. A man named Ted Arison revolutionized the outdated cruise ships by coining his Carnival Cruise Line ships the Fun Ships, some sort of amusement-park-floating-on-the-sea with themed restaurants, water slides, casinos, clubs, and theaters. Class gives way to mass, and soon profits were no longer made with the cruise rates but instead with the money passengers spent on board the ships and on shore side stops.
After September 11, 2001, the cruise line industry reached another high. Many passengers began to see cruising as a safe alternative to flying. With about 15 million passengers per year, the cruise industry is the world´s fastest growing sector of tourism overall. The Carnival Corporation has a 50+% market share. It contains twelve companies that include Cunard, Aida, Holland America, Princess Cruises, and Costa. Ted Arison is a regular in Forbe´s Top 100 List of the richest people in the world. In 2006 alone, Carnival made a profit of 2.3 billion dollars.
One of Carnival’s biggest rivals is Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which owns, amongst others, the Freedom of the Seas and the Voyager of the Seas. RCCL has about 30% market share, and the owner is Richard D. Fain.
Carnival and RCCL control more than 80% of the market and are the only cruise companies on the New York Stock Exchange. Arison and Fain are passionate competitors and have tried to top each other for years by creating even bigger ships. Carnival is right now building the Pinnacle Class with capacity for more than 4000 passengers while RCCL is countering that with Project Genesis which is being built in Oslo at the cost of more than 1.24 billion dollars and a capacity of 6400 passengers. Both ships are projected to be complete in 2009. Project Genesis will be the world´s largest cruise ship - a title is quite significant in a business where marketing means everything and incidents like that of Sabine L. from Hamburg are discouraged from being brought to the public’s eye. Sabine L. has been missing now for more than a year. A family member originally said they didn´t want to go public, because as one can imagine, it’s hard enough to just cope with the disappearance at all. But it was Cunard’s unbelievable handling of the case that eventually led them to speak out about it with Park Avenue.
When Sabine didn´t show up for breakfast at 11am, her husband was surprised and contacted the steward who in turn tried to calm Ludwig down. The steward suggested that maybe she went for a walk on the deck after swimming. But when she failed to show for lunch, the QE2 began the search. After two hours the ship turned around to search for her in the water. In the afternoon, her husband was allowed to call a relative in Hamburg, who contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the police, the search and rescue team in Bremen, and around 5pm he called Cunard in England. The call was answered by a woman who knew nothing about the incident nor that the QE2 even belonged to the Cunard Group. It was late and the woman didn´t seem to want to be bothered any further on New Year’s Eve. Finally, they managed to reach the receptionist on board the QE2. The captain was “not available” to receive any calls, they were told. On board, the search ended and the QE2 continued her voyage to Southampton.
Dinner was served in the dining room as if nothing ever happened. The relative that Ludwig had contacted searched their home in Hamburg to try and find something, anything that would solve the mystery as to what happened to Sabine. He went through the mail, bank accounts, and email, but came up with nothing - no clues and no good-bye letter. Sabine L. was a very healthy woman, with a happy life, and was looking forward to celebrating the recent birth of her grandchildren. A call to Cunard USA again ended up at a call center, and even though the relative felt like he was getting nowhere, he refused to give up. After a day and a half, he finally reached someone he thought could help: the Vice-President of the company! She tried to be understanding, and said she did not believe it was suicide because in 14 out of 15 cases she knew about, the victim always left a note.
The ship, being so old, only had security cameras in the casino and the stores. Later, they found that a brochure proudly claimed that there are even cameras in the engine room. Cunard claimed they did everything possible to aid in the investigation and that police in Southampton would be taking over the case. When the ship arrived in Southampton, Ludwig L. left the ship without his wife. Nobody, not the Captain nor the Steward said good-bye to him, this man who had lost his wife of 40 years, his love, and the rest of his life. Ludwig flew home. Four hours later, the QE2 continued the trip to New York.