The elements of the newspaper story read like the early chapters of an Agatha Christie novel. A young bride on her honeymoon wakes up, still in her clothing from the night before. She doesnt remember how she got back to her cabin, and her husband is not there.

She goes to the spa to keep an appointment for his-and-her massages that the couple had scheduled, hoping he would show up. She is told shes 90 minutes early. Her husband never arrives.

Blood is found in her cabin and over the awning covering one of the ships lifeboats.

The log of the cruise ship reveals that crew members had found the new bride unconscious shortly after 4:30 a.m. on the floor of a lounge on the same deck as her stateroom. Three crew members had put her in a wheelchair and returned her to her cabin. Ship officials conclude the husband has gone missing.

The mystery deepens still. A group of four young men say they had been drinking heavily with the husband the night before and had returned him to the cabin before the wife was brought there by the crew.

Other passengers report having heard a thud coming from the cabin sometime after 4 a.m. but before the bride was returned by the crew around 5 a.m. The ship log reports there was a call at 4:05 a.m., complaining of a loud party in the cabin.

Two days later, a female passenger charges she was raped by a group of young men, who turn out to be the same men seen drinking with the husband the night he disappeared.

If it were an Agatha Christie novel, there would be enough mysterious doings to keep Hercule Poirot busy for at least 200 pages.

But at the end, as he gathers all the characters into the lounge to unravel the mystery, I cant imagine that his conclusion would be, The cruise line did it.

Reading the news reports last week, it felt very much like Royal Caribbean was on trial, just as the island of Aruba was after the Natalee Holloway disappearance.

It is a legitimate part of both these inquiries to assess whether Royal Caribbean and authorities in Aruba responded appropriately when tragedy occurred in their jurisdictions.

And it is understandable that frustrated families of victims will focus on the behavior of those whose action (or inaction) can be interpreted as hindering, rather than assisting, resolution.

Family members of victims are not allowed to sit on juries -- emotion and reason are too much in conflict. Absent that possibility, the victims families seemed to have morphed into the role of prosecutor, focusing their activities on the authorities who claim to have tried to help them.

I have no reason to think the families want anything but justice for their missing loved ones. And they have found a sympathetic ear in some quarters of the media.

But the media -- in some cases assuming a position that bears a closer resemblance to Inspector Clouseau than to Hercule Poirot -- has seized on these cases in a manner that gives the events disproportionate coverage relative to other missing persons crimes.

If we ask ourselves why, it wont bring us much comfort, but we might conclude that it has as much to do with the nature of the travel industry as with the nature of the media. We sell fun. We sell escape from problems. We sell atmospheres where its OK to party.

Governments and private companies take credit for creating the environments in which the fun occurs. They vie for attention with the media and consumers to get that message across.

But when the opposite of fun occurs, they find out only too well that their message was effective, as they view the words of their own marketing campaigns in painful juxtaposition to headlines.


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