Parents of woman missing at sea demand new cruise laws

Missing at sea for months
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Story highlights

  • Rebecca Coriam disappeared from a Disney cruise ship in March
  • 168 people have vanished from cruise ships and ferries in international waters since 1995
  • Missing persons at sea must be investigated by the country where the ship is registered
  • Coriam's parents want new laws to protect cruise passengers in Europe
In the early hours of March 22 this year, cruise ship worker Rebecca Coriam made a mysterious phonecall. No one knows who she spoke to, or what the call was about. Minutes later she hung up, walked away -- and apparently vanished without a trace.
Six months later, her parents still have no idea what happened to their 24-year-old daughter on board the Disney Wonder ship as it sailed off the coast of California. And like the loved ones of scores of others who have vanished from cruises in international waters, there is little they can do to find out.
While millions of people around the world take cruises every year, at least 168 people have vanished from cruise ships and ferries in international waters since 1995, according to the International Cruise Victims Association.
Maritime law states that crimes are to be investigated by police in the country where the ship is registered. So while Coriam, who is British, went missing off the coast of California, her case was taken up in the Bahamas, where the Disney Wonder is registered.
Coriam's parents, Mike and Ann, were shocked to learn that rather than American or British police boarding the ship to gather evidence, Disney and then Bahamian law enforcement were to handle the investigation.
The Coriams flew to Los Angeles where they were shown CCTV footage of their daughter making a phone call in the early hours of the morning she went missing -- the only piece of evidence they've been shown in the investigation into her disappearance, they say.
"We don't know what was in the phonecall and when she finished the call she just walked away," Mike told CNN. "That's all we really know to this day."
A single police officer from the Bahamas flew into town but failed to interview any of the roughly 3,700 passengers and crewon the cruise ship -- and that appears to be the extent of the investigation into their daughter's disappearance, her parents say.
Superintendent Paul Rolle of the Bahamas police told the UK newspaper Daily Mail: "I have been in touch with the family and have no further comment."
"We get very little information coming back to us as to what the investigation has found out, and that's partly because of the problems of where the ship's registered," said Mike.
Rebecca's parents are demanding new regulations similar to a new U.S. law which allows the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard to investigate cases of missing U.S. citizens regardless of where the ship is registered.
"The law we want is what President Barack Obama signed up to last year in the U.S.," said Mike. "We want the same in the UK and Europe and elsewhere."
The Coriams have met with UK shipping minister Mike Penning, who has pledged to raise the issue with the International Maritime Organization -- but progress has been slow.
"It's been absolutely awful," said Anne. "We just miss her desperately now -- it's the longest we've ever gone without seeing her, and it's not getting any easier at all."
At the time of her disappearance a Disney spokeswoman said: "We have been doing everything possible to find Rebecca Coriam including conducting multiple shipboard searches. In addition, we have been working with all of the appropriate authorities. Rebecca's disappearance has been difficult for everyone at Disney Cruise Line."
"We've been in close contact with the Coriam family, and we're assisting them in any way we can."
Mike blames the culture of cruise ships, and not Disney or the Bahamian police, for the lack of action over Rebecca's disappearance.
And with the recent news that the UK cruise line company Cunard is considering moving its ships' registrations to a different country, even more cruise passengers could be exposed to the problems the Coriams have faced.
With little more support than that of their own family, the Coriams say they are focused on finding out what happened to their daughter -- and preventing others from going through the same trauma.
"We've got to find out what's happened to her -- you don't just vanish off of a ship with all those people," said Anne. "We'll keep on and keep strong for her until we find answers."