Transcript: 162. The Disney Cruise Ship Disappearance of Rebecca Coriam | Pacific Ocean:

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Today, there are over 300 cruise ships sailing around the world. The giant ocean vessels let people escape the worries of their everyday lives and experience life out on the sea, with fun and luxury at their fingertips. But not everything is sunshine, laughs, and entertainment. Beyond cocktails, fine dining and endless entertainment, lurks the dark danger of opportunistic criminals. Because cruise ships mostly operate in international waters, there is no police force on board. Security guards keep the peace on a ship, they do not have any law enforcement powers. So if a serious crime occurs in international waters, the investigation is the responsibility of the country where the ship is registered. 


The Disney Wonder, one of Disney’s many cruise ships, made headlines in the spring of 2011 when a young crew member named Rebecca Coriam was reported missing. CCTV footage shows her talking on an internal crew phone at 5:45 am on March 22, 2011. After this, Rebecca has never been seen again. 


>>Intro Music

Rebecca Coriam was born on March 11, 1987 in Chester, England. She has a sister, Rachel, and two foster brothers. Her parents, Mike and Ann, were very close with their daughter. Rebecca attended Catholic school and joined the British Army cadets in her teens. She attended Plymouth University and studied sports science. She had an active social life, participating in outdoor events through a Staff Volunteer position in the cadets as well as going all the way to America to work at a youth camp in Maine. She taught sports and took classes in youth studies while at university. 


In 2010, Rebecca interviewed for a job with Disney Cruise Line. Once hired by the company, she was sent to Florida for training. She worked for four months on a ship that travelled to the Bahamas. She then took a two-month break, staying with her family in England. She returned to work on Disney Wonder which departed from Los Angeles on March 21st. The ship travelled from Los Angeles to make stops at Mexican tourist hot spots Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. 


“Magic is Here” – is the promise the Disney Cruise Line offers its passengers. Disney Wonder, the ship on which Rebecca worked, joined the Disney fleet in 1999. The floating resort has 11 decks and almost 1,000 crew members working hard to create the most magical experience for their guests. 


The cruise liner has boundless entertainment options, with favourite Disney characters being front and centre of everything. There are also spas, pools, salons, and fitness gyms for adults to have their own getaway. The cruise offers dance classes, lounges, bars, movie theatres, and youth clubs all themed around the most the famous characters in pop culture. With all-things Micky Mouse – no one will ever be bored on a Disney Cruise. 


Since Disney has an exceptionally large young fan base, it is no surprise that there is a plethora of activities aimed at children. The youth clubs provide spaces where kids can learn and have fun, all inspired by Disney storytelling. There are video games, music, movies, karaoke, parties, and social events all geared toward kids. To facilitate this, the ship needs energetic and outgoing crew members to work and play with all the kids on the ship. 


And one could not find someone better suited for the job than 24-year-old Rebecca Coriam. She was on the ship to entertain and look after children as a youth activities counsellor. Her duties included working closely with teenagers on board. According to Disney Careers:


“…as a Youth Activities Counsellor you will interact and supervise children ages 13-17 years old by providing a safe and entertaining environment in Youth Activities spaces onboard our ships and islands.” 


The job description cites needing the ability to “command the attention of a large group of children” and work a 70 – 84-hour week. This isn’t a job for everyone. Crew members are away from home for four-and-a-half-months at a time, they work long hours and are expected to display constant energy and excitement. 


According to one of her co-workers, Rebecca was…


“…the most amazing little burst of energy. You were completely drawn to her. She loved life, bouncing around all the time.” 


The Disney Wonder sailed out of Los Angeles on the morning of 21 March 2011, for a 7-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera. It was business as usual as passengers settled into their berths, kids were introduced to youth leaders and parents kicked off their shoes for a week of wholesome family fun.


But the video footage recorded from the CCTV cameras of Rebecca Coriam’s last known whereabouts suggests that something was terribly wrong. She was upset and visibly distraught. At 5:45am on the morning of March 22nd, Rebecca was seen on Deck One’s crew quarters. The footage shows her a dishevelled Rebecca. Her clothes looked way too big for her and did not seem to be her own. The baggy shirt she was wearing envelopes her frame. Rebecca can be seen speaking on the phone, and there was some or other disagreement. A man comes up to her and appears to ask her if she was okay. The footage shows her telling the man that she was fine. Then, as her father Mike Coriam would later state:


“[Rebecca] put the phone down. She turned around. She had her hands in her back pockets, which she always did. Then she put her hands to her head like this, pushing her hair back…” 


She then walked out of the video frame never to be seen again. 


When Rebecca’s shift started at 9am she was a no-show – which was completely out of the ordinary for a reliable employee like her. Her name was called over the intercom system, but she never responded to the call. They did an extensive search of the ship and notified the Mexican coastguard. Both the U.S. coastguard and the Mexican Navy searched the waters, but they found no sign of Rebecca. 


Rebecca went missing in international waters somewhere between the US and Mexico. 

However, an officer from the Bahamas was assigned to the case because the ship was registered in the Bahamas, not the US or the UK. Despite Disney Cruise Lines being an American company and Rebecca being an English citizen, the investigation was only conducted under Bahamian jurisdiction, by a sole investigator. 


This is common, despite how eyebrow raising it seems. Cruise Lines register their ships in non-US countries for tax purposes. Only one cruise ship, the Pride of America, is registered in the US because it sails exclusively in Hawaii. Since 2011 however, laws have changed and if an American citizen is involved with an incident such as a crime or missing persons case while on board an American cruise line, the FBI will step in and become involved with the case. 


Eight weeks before her disappearance, Rebecca went home to spend two weeks with her family when her grandfather passed away. When she returned to the ship, she kept in close contact with her family through Facebook messenger and Skype. The last message she wrote to her parents was that she would call them the next day. 


When she never called, her mother grew concerned. Her family has always spoken fondly of the relationship they had with their daughter, stating they were very close and felt they knew their daughter well. 


Disney Cruise directors informed the Coriams that their daughter was missing and flew them out to Los Angeles, where they arrived on March 25th. Mike and Ann Coriam met with Paul Rolle, a Royal Bahamas Police Force detective. 


Officer Rolle told Rebecca’s parents that he flew to Mexico from Nassau, about 1,500 miles away from where the cruise ship was located at the time of Rebecca’s disappearance. He only started his investigation three days after Rebecca went missing from the ship, then went to Los Angeles. He reported to have undergone several days of onboard investigations, which included interviewing just nine crew members and none of the passengers. 


This raised alarm with Rebecca’s parents. They realised that nothing much was done by way of investigation, and it was up to them to drive the search for their daughter. The couple were critical of the official investigation and Disney, claiming that they were purposefully left in the dark and kept away from the passengers and public. The captain of Disney Wonder offered his condolences to the couple and told them that he believes she was washed overboard by a rogue wave on the 5th Deck. They attended a meeting with Disney executives and the person Rebecca was speaking to on the phone right before her disappearance. 


The detective assigned to investigate the possible disappearance of a person was only given a few hours in-between unloading and loading of The Disney Wonder. The ship was docked in Los Angeles and scheduled to leave with all new passengers that same day. There was no delay, postponement, or cancellations. The only option for the cruise lines seemed to be to just move on as originally scheduled. 


While on the ship, for the short amount of time they were given access, Mike and Ann were taken to the 5th Deck, where they were told the incident happened. A crew member set out flowers, as a sort of remembrance of Rebecca. But no one had any idea what happened to her and her parents were not willing to accept a half-hearted statement from Disney claiming that they assumed she just fell overboard somehow. From the perspective of her parents, no one really cared enough to find out what happened. They just accepted the easy narrative – that she must have been washed overboard by a freak wave – and move on. Mike Coriam said: 


“People go on ships and are lulled into a false sense of security because they are happy places of holidaymakers. Crimes are swept under the carpet and incidents are not investigated properly.”


The Disney Wonder is a large vessel with 875 state rooms and can transport 2,400 guests and 950 crew. Cruise ships like the Disney Wonder are designed to prevent people from stumbling overboard. There are walls and rail everywhere to keep passengers safe. The location where Rebecca was assumed to have fallen overboard contains a railing that was five feet tall. 


Records show that the weather that morning wasn’t rough and so a wave washing up onto the ship seemed unlikely. Another suspicious element to the story was that there were no cameras set up on the 5th Deck. There are, of course, other cameras set up all around the ship, much like the one that captured her speaking on the phone that morning. 


A pair of flip flops were found on the deck where she presumably fell over. Those flip flops were brought to her room and given by her parents when they were collecting her belongings. But the flip flops were the wrong size and had a name and cabin number written on them that didn’t match Rebecca’s. This supported Mike and Ann’s theory that something else was at play. They received very little information and felt as though no one was truly looking into how Rebecca disappeared. They had the sense that Disney wanted them to accept the fact that their daughter was dead, and that they should stop looking for her.


One of the strongest theories were that Rebecca jumped overboard. But her parents refused to accept this. While collecting Rebecca’s things from her cabin, her parents found complimentary tickets to Disneyland Paris. They knew those tickets were meant as gifts for them, as she had messaged her mother about it. There was also a note that said “phone mum!” on her night stand. These clues confirmed to her parents that Rebecca did not end her own life. She was making plans for the future and nothing about her seemed to raise suspicions regarding suicide.


Her parents were adamant that she was in a positive state of mind during this time in her life and felt it was highly unlikely. Still, the fact that the footage of her last phone call showed how distraught she was, nothing could be excluded. 


About a month after Rebecca’s disappearance, her parents were contacted by her bank about unusual activity. Rebecca’s credit card was used and there was a spark of hope that  she could still be alive. But no further information is known about those charges or what really happened. 


Because of the long trip from England and the time difference, her parents were extremely tired during their brief time on the ship. They lacked the energy to ask more questions after they were give such short answers. They later talk about this in interviews where they express regret for not being more inquisitive. They were stunned, not only from their daughter’s disappearance, but by the lacklustre response that seemed to take place in reaction to it. They were frustrated and discouraged. 


But they continued to give interviews and share their thoughts on the matter, feeling as if Disney had moved on quickly and did not want a ton of news stories about the unnerving disappearance. They never received a call back from the detective once he finished his initial investigation. 


According to a story that ran immediately following the news of Rebecca’s disappearance, the ship passengers were aware of the missing employee. One passenger gave an interview stating: 


“They told us over the loud speaker several times that they were looking for her. And then all of a sudden that said they still hadn’t found her.” 


Another passenger said:


“We didn’t notice anybody panicking or frantically going in and out of rooms.” 


This passenger’s companion added: 


“I didn’t even notice a search. They said that they were searching, but there was nothing obvious.” 


In this case, with no proper investigation, several theories about Rebecca’s fate float around – most of which are speculation. 


First, there is Disney’s explanation about what could have happened: distraught after the phone call, Rebecca walked out on the 5th Deck to gather her thoughts. There she went overboard, either by her own choice, or she was washed overboard by a rogue wave.


When journalist Jon Ronson booked himself on the Disney Wonder, he did so with the sole purpose of learning more about Rebecca’s disappearance. In October of 2011, he boarded the exact same ship Rebecca worked on and made it his mission to find some answers. He wrote about his experience and the communication he had with Mike and Ann throughout his investigative journey. His article explores information he recovered from crew members.  It provides a context that the official investigation failed to communicate. 


In his piece, he wrote about his interaction with several crew members. Ronson’s theory was that Rebecca must have slipped on Deck 4’s jogging track. He noticed four CCTV cameras on that particular deck, two on the port side and two on the starboard side. The footage, if there is any, was never released to the public. When he asked a crew member about Rebecca, Ronson suggested it must have been Deck 4, but the crew member was surprised and replied that she went from Deck 5, not 4. He told Ronson:


“Go to Deck 10, walk to the front of the ship and look down.” 


This location provided a view of the crew swimming pool, where it was believed she had fallen overboard - on the starboard side. The same crew member revealed that everyone knew where she must have stood, because they found her shoe. That shoe is the flip flop that was not Rebecca’s size and even had someone else’s name and cabin number written on it. But this information had already become part of the repeated narrative. 


Other crew members Ronson spoke with defended Disney Cruise Line, stating that they enjoyed their jobs and were treated well by the company. One said:


“Disney wouldn’t hire you if you weren’t that sort of person.” 


This implied that all of the crew, including Rebecca, truly loved their jobs and were happy to be there. When prodded a little more by Ronson, another crew member responded: 


“There’s nothing dark or sinister going on. This is Disney.” 


It would seem the crew members were told exactly what happened to Rebecca and were encouraged to move on and repeat their instructed narrative. But not everyone onboard accepted the story they were given by Disney. 


An unnamed crew member interviewed by Ronson felt differently. This person claimed that – Quote “Disney knows exactly what happened” Unquote – and that the phone call Rebecca had made was taped because, “everything here is taped.” The crew member reiterated, “Disney has the tape,” suggesting some sort of cover up from the global corporation. 


Ronson noticed that the walls surrounding Deck 5 were very high. For a wave to flow over and take someone would seem improbable. Perhaps Rebecca was sitting on the wall and slipped? Or maybe there was something darker at play… 


Through further inquiry, Ronson learned that Rebecca may have had a fight with her romantic partner that night, at least according to one of her friends on the ship. She was described by this friend as “a lovely girl with an underlying sadness.” This friend didn’t suspect any foul play, but just implied that she may have been emotional that morning which caused her to be distracted. 


The website ‘Cruise Ship Deaths’ has over 20 stories about suicides that have occurred on cruise ships since 2007. One consistent talking point from Mike and Ann was the strong belief that Rebecca did not take her own life. In Jon Ronson’s article, he talked about the height of the wall on Deck 5 could indicate possible death by suicide, but Mike refutes that claim. Ronson asked him if there was any underlying sadness, as her friend on the ship suggested. Her father said: 


“No, no, no. There wasn’t.” 


Mike and Ann were never granted the opportunity to speak with anyone that knew Rebecca over the course of her tenure on the ship. 


Rebecca’s parents don’t want to believe that their daughter could have taken her own life. They insisted she was happy in her life and in a good place. They reminded the media that their daughter had purchased Disneyland Paris tickets and had a note reminding her to call her mother. These clues reinforce the idea that she was taken from the ship unwillingly. 


Her parents considered the possibility that Rebecca was injured or attacked. In various interviews with the British media, they talked about the theory that she was sexually assaulted and then thrown overboard. Because she was dressed in men’s clothing while making a phone call, clearly distraught, supported that theory, or at least provided room for the possibility. 


In 1998, 23-year-old Amy Lynn Bradley disappeared from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Many sightings of Amy made investigators believe she was a victim of sex trafficking. Although Rebecca’s credit card was used a month after her disappearance, it did not lead the Coriams to their daughter. But it alerted them that she may have been trafficked off the ship. She could have been kidnapped and smuggled off board and forced into trafficking? Her passport was left in her room and there was no obvious way off the ship, but with no answers, they could not exclude anything.


About a year after her disappearance, Mike received an anonymous email from a woman who claimed to have recently seen Rebecca in Italy. The witness said she was 85% sure that the girl was Rebecca and that she may still be alive. That tip was taken seriously by Mike, but ultimately didn’t lead to anything. After all, that was a random email from a witness who wasn’t even sure who she saw. It’s a strange addition to the case, but seemingly insignificant to the truth of what really happened to Rebecca. There is no evidence to suggest that Rebecca ever got off the ship, much less that she would still be alive and walking around Italy. 


In 2016, five years after her disappearance, Rebecca’s girlfriend spoke up for the first time about Rebecca’s last night on board the Disney Wonder. Tracie Medley gave an interview to British tabloid publication The Sun, and revealed what she believed happened to Rebecca. She claimed that Rebecca was, in fact, rather troubled. At the time of her disappearance, she was taking drugs, including cocaine. The pair met in 2010 and both worked in the youth clubs on Disney Wonder. Tracie also brought to light a darker side of Rebecca that had never been talked about in public. 


According to Tracie, her and Rebecca’s relationship was not exclusive. Tracie also had a boyfriend who worked on the ship named Deven Hyde. Deven had been on leave when Tracie turned her attentions to Rebecca. The two young women met at a party, and they shared an immediate connection. Tracie spoke about how Rebecca helped her talk through issues of her sexuality and that their romance was “wild fun and passionately intense.” 


Tracie had the feeling that she was not as committed to the relationship as Rebecca would have hoped. Still, Tracie described them as being madly in love. When Deven returned to the ship, he and Tracie resumed their relationship, presumably much to the chagrin of Rebecca. 


Tracie also said that Rebecca had been doing cocaine while back home in England. She claimed that she… 


“…spent six years reading bullshit claims from Rebecca’s family that she was a fun-loving, never-sad athlete with no issues and a love for life.” 


She added that someone needed to be blamed for her death because they could not accept the truth. She claimed Rebecca felt like a misfit and that she felt that her family was ashamed she was a lesbian. Tracie claimed Rebecca told her that her sister was embarrassed over some of the new friends she had started hanging out with. 


Either way, Tracie’s account of Rebbeca’s life aboard the Disney Wonder continued. She recalled one night when Rebecca was upset with her again. This is what Tracie told The Sun:


“She started drinking and while we tried to walk her back to her room she’d scream, cry, punch herself in the face and bang her head against the walls of the ship.” 


It took four people to calm her down, according to this account, and they all carried her to Tracie’s room. Later that night, Rebecca woke Tracie up and told her that she felt like a failure because she wasn’t brave enough to jump off the ship. Tracie said that Rebecca thought that her not being able to kill herself showed a sign of weakness. Tracie told her that was ridiculous and that not jumping showed that she had something to live for and that’s why she couldn’t go through with it. 


The night before she disappeared, Rebecca allegedly had drinks at the bar with Tracie and her boyfriend Deven. Later that night, they would have a threesome that was initiated by Rebecca. Tracie was excited that Rebecca was being spontaneous. According to Tracie, she felt Rebecca was finally relaxing and letting her hair down – so to speak.


From the bar, they all went back to Deven’s room and had sex. They fell asleep together and at some point, Rebecca woke up. She wanted Tracie to leave with her, but Tracie was too tired and drunk, so she stayed with Deven. Rebecca said she needed to go for a walk, and wanted something to wear before she left, so she put on some of Deven’s clothes. After Rebecca left, Tracie left the door unlocked so she could let herself back into the room after her walk. When Tracie woke up, she realised Rebecca had never come back to the room. She panicked and had a feeling that something wasn’t right. 


These accounts from Tracie appear to match the CCTV footage from the morning Rebecca disappeared. 


Tracie claimed that she was finally coming forward to clear her name because people have a perception of her that wasn’t true. She never left the room the morning Rebecca went missing. Everyone knew something bad had happened, but she stayed in the room. She said she has nothing to hide, stating:


“I never did anything to physically harm Rebecca. My gut tells me she jumped only because there were previous attempts.” 


Rebecca’s family did not comment on Tracie’s version of events as published in The Sun. However, in an article from the Hollywood Reporter from 2017, her father expressed concern: not about Rebecca being a lesbian but about her being forced to have sex with someone she didn’t want to. Her father believed that she was forced to have a threesome and have sexual relations with Deven. This supports their view that Rebecca was sexually assaulted that night which was why she was so upset on the phone that morning. 


If Rebecca did have her very first threesome and she was already emotionally fragile, it seems perfectly plausible for her to have a strong reaction after the fact. She might have regretted her own behaviour, or have been upset about going through with it, or sad about the experience because of her feelings for Tracie. These feelings could align with her anxious behaviour on the security footage. But does that mean she took her own life? That part remains unclear. It is still only speculation. There are so many remaining questions and theories about what really could have happened. 


Sadly, the investigation – or lack thereof – brought no answers. The handling of the case has been criticised far and wide. The fact that only one officer was put in charge of a missing persons case that involved a location that housed several thousand people in the near vicinity is enough of cause confusion. The Coriams never received any final report on the case. They were provided with very little evidence, nor did they have material related to the investigation disclosed to them. 


Is Disney covering up something more sinister? Why has the audio from Rebecca’s last phone call never been released? Why was Disney and the officer assigned to her case so quick to label this as a freak accident that was solved before her parents even stepped on board the ship only a few days later?


The gaps in the case call the truth into question. Why was there no security footage of the location where Rebecca supposedly fell or jumped of the ship? If the entire ship is covered with cameras, how can there be no footage? Was someone not doing their job? Is the cruise line covering up negligence? Was Rebecca attacked on the ship? 


British Labour MP Chris Matheson believes that Rebecca was a crime victim and potentially murdered or sexually assaulted. He told the media outlet Echo in 2015 that: 


“The more you look into this the more it smells rotten; the more it smells like a crime has taken place.” 


In 2017, a news article broke detailing Rebecca’s parents, along with maritime expert and family spokesman Bill Anderson, belief of what happened to Rebecca. Her family is convinced that Rebecca was a sexual assault victim. Some reports claim that she confided in friends while visiting home for her grandfather’s funeral. According to her friends, she expressed concern about being sexually assaulted while on board the ship. 


Is there a chance Rebecca was raped, and then murdered in an attempt to conceal the crime? The names of the potential suspects are known to private investigators but has not been made public. The only information we know is that the suspects are one man and one woman, which strongly suggests two of the last known people who saw her. 


Mike and Ann also pleaded with the British government to intervene. The Royal Bahamas Police Force does not have the experience and resources to have investigated Rebecca’s properly. 


Former Commander of Specialist Operations at Scotland Yard, Roy Ramm has been investigating this case on behalf of the family. In a Channel 4 series from 2020 called Nightmare Cruises: Going Overboard, he reveals that.


“The really troubling thing is we don’t know everything that happened on that ship because there’s been no inquest. All kinds of explanations are being given about what happened, but none of them make any sense.” 


Ramm believes the family should have been kept informed about everything involving the case, including being given the opportunity to ask more questions. The Royal Bahamas Police Force declined to comment on the Channel 4 special. 


Mike and Ann have continued to fight for a more thorough investigation of the disappearance of their daughter. Detective Ramm believes that the family needs closure in order to move on. All they want is to know how and why their daughter went missing. 


After just nine months, the Bahamas police declared Rebecca’s disappearance as “not suspicious.” Yet, there is no explanation. 


An interim police report was kept from Mike and Ann, which prompted the couple to threaten Disney with legal action. In 2015 the Coriams settled out of court with Disney for an undisclosed amount. Jim Walker, a Miami-based attorney attached to the case, told the Hollywood Reporter that, “The case has been resolved.” But that “They are pursuing an inquest in the U.K.” 


Cruise ships sail all around the world and carry thousands of passengers each voyage. Surrounded by the depth of the ocean, it is no surprise that the cruise industry is fraught with missing people reports. At the time of Rebecca Coriam’s disappearance in 2011, she was the 171st cruise ship disappearance since the year 2000. Some reports claim that there are around 200 cruise ship deaths every year. A website called “Cruise Ship Deaths” catalogues every reported death. They break the deaths into categories such as murder, overboard deaths, suicides, natural, accidental, illness, port deaths disasters, overdoses, drownings, fires, and sinkings. This website lists Rebecca’s death as an overboard death and was last updated in 2017 when more information came to light about the events that took place the night she was last seen. 


Mike and Ann Coriam created a website called “Help Us Find Rebecca” at Rebecca-coriam.com – you’ll find a link in the show notes. They started campaigns to help raise awareness and funds to help support their mission to solving the mystery of what happened to their daughter. Her case is still unsolved, and her parents are still without answers. The truth is, we may never know exactly what happened to Rebecca. We only have pieces of the puzzle. The remaining pieces are lost at sea… 


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