SALEM - Tens of millions of passengers enjoy vacations on America’s cruise ships each year.
But a Salem area man warns that when things go wrong, they go very wrong. Eric Rappe is haunted by the apparent death of his older brother, Jason.
Jason Rappe and his wife Tina sailed on the Eurodam from Holland America Lines last November. A last picture shows Jason and his wife smiling on board the ship.
“Jason was my hero growing up. Everything I ever did was an attempt to be him,” said Eric Rappe. “I wrestled as a kid because Jason wrestled. I boxed as a teenager because Jason boxed. I became a union carpenter because Jason was a union carpenter."
Something happened the night of November 29, 2012 as Jason and his wife danced and drank on the ship. Jason disappeared.
“They waited and he never came out of the bathroom, so they started searching for him and eventually reported him missing,” Rappe said.
Surveillance video released to the family, shows Jason walking on deck number 10. The next camera, 100 yards away, seems to show someone going overboard. After Tina Rappe reported her husband missing the ship kept moving while an onboard search began.
The Cruise Lines International Association emailed a statement regarding missing persons reports. It says, in part: "In the vast majority of cases, the person ends up being found on the ship after a coordinated search. When that is unsuccessful or if there is evidence that a person went overboard, the ship turns around and works directly with government search and rescue personnel and other vessels to try and find the person."
According to a detective with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, three hours passed before the ship turned around.
Eric has not been found.
“Right now it’s been reported as a missing person, presumed deceased," said detective Kevin Forsberg.
Jason's brother wants someone held accountable for what he considers a lack of response to save a life. His attorney, who specializes in maritime law, said it’s a gray area.
“All cruise lines are foreign corporations,” said Jim Walker. “And as a consequence of that, there's no true federal oversight by anyone here in the United States like the FAA has oversight of the U.S. commercial aviation industry," Walker said.
The FBI has jurisdiction over crimes and disappearances on cruise ships at sea, but can defer to local law enforcement, which apparently happened in the Rappe case.
In the meantime, Eric Rappe and his family are considering legal action against the cruise line.
“If he was murdered or fell, you know there is a million different scenarios that could have happened and since the day that he disappeared, I have seen every one of those scenarios in a dream. Every single one of them. I've watched my brother disappear thousands of times," said Eric Rappe.
The Holland America Line declined to answer specific questions for this report but did issue the following statement.
“We understand that the family continues to seek answers about Mr. Rappe's disappearance and they have engaged an attorney to assist them in that process. We have a policy against commenting publicly on pending or potential litigation, but we have offered and remain willing to sit with the Rappe's in an open exchange of information regarding this sad event.”