Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Woman Missing From Ship

Shuttles and taxis wait outside the cruise terminal after the Carnival cruise ship Elation returned to Galveston today. A female passenger was reported missing from the ship.
A Houston-area woman reported missing from a Carnival cruise ship was not the victim of foul play or an accidental fall, Houston FBI agents determined today after interviewing the her husband and other passengers. "We had agents on the ship and concluded there was no foul play involved," said Agent Luz Garcia, a spokeswoman for the FBI. "I can't really go into detail out of respect for the family but our feeling that it was not an accident." Family members last saw Vonnie Ales, 40, of Simonton, about 6:45 a.m. Friday when she left their cabin after the ship Elation left Belize and steamed toward its home port in Galveston, Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said. A passenger saw her on an upper deck at about 7:15 a.m. as the ship passed about 30 miles south of the Mexican island of Cozumel, de la Cruz said. The seven-day voyage included stops in Mexico and Belize. Passengers debarking from the Elation at Galveston today said they first learned that Ales was missing Friday morning when an announcement was made over the ship's public address system asking her to phone or go to the purser's office. A photo of Ales, who passengers said was traveling with her husband and two teenaged children, was broadcast over the ship's televisions. "We all looked," said John Besiso, 35, of Katy. His wife, Lisa, 35, said, "Everybody was upset and concerned." Later the captain announced that he feared Ales was overboard and that he was turning the ship around to return to the area where she was last seen, passengers said. "He was really frantic," recalled passenger Pam Gaspard, 37, of Orange. She said the ship turned around about noon. At about 1 p.m. passengers were asked to go to the rail and look along the deck for Ales and the ship turned around again, Gaspard said. Nothing was found and the ship began to retrace its course toward Cozumel, she said. Passenger Jeff Borencq, 42, of Belton, said the Elation steamed for about six hours before arriving in the area where Ales was last seen on the upper deck. Jeff Boren, 42, of Belton, and other passengers saw two Mexican naval or coast guard vessels and a third, private ship that appeared to be a large freighter, steaming in a search pattern. Gaspard said there was little danger of accidentally falling overboard. "It would be very hard to fall off," she said, noting that the railing is chest high.

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