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At San Pedro terminus, a mystery over cruise ship chef who vanished

An Italian woman meets with a Princess ship captain and crew member to try to shed light on her brother's disappearance, apparently at sea. But everyone is perplexed.

December 09, 2009|By Kimi Yoshino

The Coral Princess sailed into San Pedro on Monday morning, ending its 15-day Panama cruise; Chiara Faliva flew all the way from Italy to greet it.

Far from a relaxing vacation, Faliva is hopscotching the world -- Tuesday she was en route to Colombia -- desperately trying to determine what happened to her brother, a 31-year-old chef who disappeared from the ship a few days after it departed from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The few facts known only add to the mystery of Angelo Faliva's disappearance.

He walked out of the kitchen in the middle of his shift Nov. 25 and never returned.

Reviews of the Coral Princess' security cameras did not turn up any unusual activity.

However, a life ring was found missing from the aft of the ship.

"I only know that my brother didn't kill himself," Chiara Faliva said. "So what happened? Maybe someone killed my brother and threw him down from the ship, or maybe it was an" accident.

Her sister Anna Faliva, in an e-mail from Italy, wrote: "Nobody has news. Nobody saw him!"

Officials from Princess Cruises said they are equally perplexed.

"We don't know what happened," spokeswoman Julie Benson said. "We're cooperating fully with the authorities who are looking into this, but we have no indication or evidence of his whereabouts."

So far this year, 23 passengers have gone overboard on cruise ships, the most since 1995, according to statistics compiled by author Ross Klein, who has written books about cruise ship safety and maintains the website www.cruisejunkie.com. Six of those passengers were rescued.

The $40.2-billion-a-year industry has come under fire for a spate of high-profile missing person cases and sexual assaults that led to congressional hearings. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Cruise Line Safety Act of 2009 on a vote of 416 to 4, which mandates the reporting of certain crimes and requires statistical crime information to be posted on a public website maintained by the Coast Guard.

For families of missing passengers, searching for answers can be a long, difficult process.

"You go from 100% hope to zero," said International Cruise Victims board member Son Michael Pham, whose parents, from Orange County, disappeared during a family cruise in 2005. "Then you go from zero to minus 100. You feel so lonely out there."

Often the presumption among cruise officials and authorities is that the missing person committed suicide. But for Pham, whose parents were apparently happily retired and celebrating Mother's Day with other relatives, that explanation does not seem rational.

The Falivas feel the same way. The sisters said the chef, an Italian citizen, maintained daily contact with the family via e-mail. "My brother was happy," Anna Faliva said. "He loved his job and life."

Benson said it is presumed that Faliva went overboard as the ship was en route to Cartagena, Colombia, the second stop on the itinerary that continued through the Panama Canal. One crew member reported seeing Faliva about 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 26.

But when Faliva failed to report for his shift that morning, Princess performed a full-ship search and checked security systems and video footage. Faliva, they said, did not leave the ship in the typical way: swiping a security pass at an exit.

The Colombian Coast Guard searched the area. Princess also put two of its rescue craft into the waters and looked until nightfall, with no success, Benson said.

Angelo Faliva's room was sealed, per ship procedures.

When the ship arrived in San Pedro, its final stop, the FBI boarded at the request of the Italian Consulate. The investigation, however, is in the hands of the police in Bermuda, where the ship is registered, to determine whether there may have been foul play.

Chiara Faliva met Monday with the captain and her brother's cabin mate aboard the 1,970-passenger ship. She said neither provided much information. She plans to return to Italy later this week, carrying her brother's personal belongings, minus his computer, cellphones and camera, which authorities are keeping.

Her final stop before heading home is Cartagena, the port nearest to where Angelo Faliva was last seen. She hopes that someone there can tell her what happened to her brother.

kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

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