A Step Backwards: Alaska Yields to Cruise Industry Lobbying and Repeals Wastewater Restrictions.

Want some some zinc, nickel and copper in your Alaskan salmon? Well, now you can.

Today the Republican controlled Alaska Senate voted 14 to 6 to approve a law proposed by Governor Parnell to abolish cruise ship wastewater standards enacted in 2006.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the new law will allow the cruise industry to indefinitely discharge ammonia, a product of human waste, and heavy metals, dissolved from ship plumbing. Those discharges would have been banned in 2015 under a 2006 citizen initiative.

Alaska Air and Water PollutionThe new law dismantles a scientific advisory panel on cruise ship wastewater created in 2009. 

Formerly the most progressive state in the U.S. protecting its waters from harmful cruise ship discharges, Alaska was intimidated by the cruise industry to roll back its environmental regulations to permit cruise lines to dump high levels of waste by-products and heavy metals like zinc, copper and nickel.   

Ammonia contributes to algae blooms and harms shellfish. Copper, one of the heavy metals, has been shown to harmful to salmon. 

Fishing groups, environmentalists, Alaska native organizations and residents of coastal communities spoke out against the new pro-cruise line law.

During Tuesday's floor debate, Senator Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, listed a series of pollution violations by cruise ships over the years, including 41 in 2009. 

You can read our last article about this mess here: The Dirty Alaskan Cruise Industry Just Got Dirtier

What a big victory for the Miami-based cruise industry.

And what a disgrace for the state of Alaska.

Did Princess Cruises Fail to Rescue a Second Fishing Boat?

Princess Cruises released a press release today claiming that the fishing boat observed and photographed by several passengers on the Star Princess cruise ship is not the Fifty Cents fishing boat which contained three young men from Panama. 

You will recall that two young Panamanian fisherman died after a cruise ship failed to stop and provide d assistance to them as they floundered in a disabled boat 100 miles at sea. One man, Adrian Vasquez, age 18, survived after floating in the derelict boat for a month.  When rescued, Vasquez identified a large white cruise ship as the vessel which refused to stop.

The story became more interesting when it was revealed that several passengers (bird watchers) on the Star Princess with high powered Star Princess Cruise Shiplens observed people on a fishing boat waving in distress. They alerted the cruise ship's officers but the ship refused to stop.  

You can read our coverage of this saga here.

This case has ended up in court with lawsuits filed by the survivor and the wives and children of the two dead men. Princess Cruises has argued that it has no legal duty to rescue mariners in distress.

Today Princess Cruises issued a press release arguing that it has "new evidence (which) proves Princess Cruises did not fail to rescue adrift fishermen as alleged."  The evidence the cruise line points to is not new at all. They are referring to computer generated images created for the cruise line at the request of lawyers to be used to defend the cruise line's legal interests.  Princess Cruises hired an "expert" to offer an opinion that there are differences between the fishing boat photographed by the cruise passengers and the computer images of the boat based on snippets of video of the boat on which survivor Vasquez was eventually rescued.  You can see the comparison of the actual photo and the computer created images below.

I'm not convinced at all. The "two" vessels are similar in size.  Both have white hulls.  And Fifty Cents Fishing Boat - Princess Cruisesboth have blue trim, although the size of the trim looks different.  But that may be due to the blurry and distorted images which were taken from a long distance. I'm sure that the lawyers for the families of the dead men will retain their own experts to analyze the photo and the computer images to see if they have been altered or enhanced and arrive at their own experts opinions about the matter.

One thing I observed in the video of the Fifty Cents which Princess posted is that it shows a blue awning / tarp at Vasquez's feet, after he was rescued. The photos taken of the fishing boat in distress by the bird watchers clearly show a blue tarp.  

Two different white hull fishing boats of the same size, both with blue trim, and both with blue tarps?  

But if Princess' paid experts are right that the boat which the bird watchers observed and photographed was not the Fifty Cents, that hardly exculpates Princess. Remember there is no question that the fishing boat that the cruise passengers observed was in distress and its occupants were waving for help far out at sea and, yet, the Princess cruise ship kept on sailing.  If Princess, the bird watchers and Vasquez are all right, this would logically and reasonably point to a conclusion that Princess Cruises failed to rescue Fifty Cents and a second fishing boat in distress as well.

Princess' press release states that Princess Cruises "has demanded the lawsuits be immediately dismissed . . . "   But it has filed no motion before the court and submitted no evidence into the record.  It has not offered to produce its experts for deposition and cross examination.

It looks like Princess wants to fight this lawsuit in the press.  Here's part of the Princess press release:

 

Princess Cruises - Fifty Cents Fishing Boat - Star Princess Cruise Ship

 

Robert Peltz of Leesfield & Partners, which represents the family of Fernando Osorio, one of the young men who perished, has issued the following statement:

“This latest move by Princess is the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’ – a hopeless pass and last ditch effort to avoid liability on a legitimate claim. The facts are simple and straight forward. The picture taken by passenger Jeff Gilligen shows the Fifty Cents boat and its passengers Adrian Vasquez, Fernando Osorio and Elvis Diaz desperately reaching out to the Princess cruise ship for rescue. We have solid evidence that confirms that the picture shows the Fifty Cents. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, Princess seems intent on paying so-called ‘experts’ to give them a way out through comparison of grainy, out-of-focus pictures and ‘computer stitched images’. A jury will decide this case and provide the accountability that Princess is clearly incapable of doing on its own.”
 

 

Photo credit: Top - Wikipedia / Yankeeman 312;  Bottom - Princess Cruises

 

Second Lawsuit Filed Against Princess Cruises For Failing to Rescue Mariners in Distress

As expected, Princess Cruises was named as a defendant in a second lawsuit filed in Miami arising out of the high profile case where the Star Princess cruise ship sailed by a small fishing boat called Fifty Cents with three young men aboard 100 miles out at sea, leaving two of the men to die.

Three passengers observed the small vessel with the men waiving in distress and alerted the cruise ship's crew.  Princess initially claimed that the cruise ship communicated with the men aboard the fishing boat who allegedly thanked them for avoiding their nets - a story that was publicly ridiculed. Princess then changed course and claimed that the passengers' account of seeing the stricken fishing Fifty Cents Fishing Boat - Sail By - Princess Cruisesboat was never communicated to the bridge. 

This lawsuit against Princess Cruises was filed on behalf of the family of 16 year old Fernando Osorio Rodriguez, the youngest to die.   He reportedly died later at night on the same day that the Princess cruise ship sailed by.  He left behind his mother, father and four siblings.

The first lawsuit was filed on behalf of 18 year old Adrian Vazquez, who survived after suffering at sea for a month.  he was finally rescued some 600 miles from the fishing village where the men sailed from. 

The Miami Herald, which usually avoids stories which put the cruise lines in a bad light quoted Rodriquez's lawyer, Ira Leesfield, stating "It’s always been the moral and legal obligation of larger, well-equipped vessels to help people out . . . I don’t think you can put the expediency and the convenience and the economics of the ship that could rescue and save people’s lives before the value of people’s lives, and I think that’s what happened here. It’s really inexcusable.” 

We were the first to report on the case in the U.S. in our articles:

Two Dead Fishermen: Did Star Princess Cruise Ship Ignore Mariners in Distress

Duty of Cruise Lines to Assist Persons In Distress: Moral, Legal & Practical Considerations On The High Seas

Survivor of Infamous Star Princess "Sail By" Sues Princess Cruises

Two Dead Fishermen: Did Star Princess Cruise Ship Ignore Mariners in Distress?

Did Princess Cruises forsake young fishermen to die an excruciating death in order to keep its cruise itinerary?

That's what Don Winner, a blogger for Panama-Guide.com, wants to know.  Mr. Winner reports on some disturbing developments in his article "Panama Castaways Were Spotted By Cruise Ship Passengers - And Ignored By Ship's Captain."

The story involves the intersection of the paths of two ships, from different worlds so to speak,  The first vessel  - Fifty Cents Fishing Boat - Star Princess Cruise Shipthe Star Princess Star, a large luxury cruise ship operated by Princess Cruises of the Love Boat fame - filled with passengers enjoying a fun vacation.  The second vessel - Fifty Cents, a small (26 foot) fishing boat - with three young men aboard: Fernando Osorio, age 16; Adrian Vasquez, age 18; and Oropeces Betancourt, 24, all from Panama.

The crucial moment came on the morning of March 10, 2012 when the Star Princess was making the crossing from Ecuador to Costa Rica.  Mr. Winner writes that the little fishing boat's engine was dead and the boat was adrift when the giant Star Princess was seen steaming in its direction. The fishermen, who had been at sea for 2 weeks, waived for assistance but the cruise ship passed by.  The distraught fishermen must have concluded that their frantic waves were not seen by anyone on the cruise ship.

But it turns out that three cruise passengers (all bird watchers, with either keen vision and/or equally keen binoculars) observed the men calling for help and urgently alerted a crew member and pressed the matter further.  The cruise ship failed to stop.  One passenger tried to email the Coast Guard. When she contacted Princess' corporate offices in California, she was given the usual corporate non-response.     

The Star Princess' failure to assist the stricken vessel resulted in Oropeces Betancourt, 24, dying of dehydration later that same day. The youngest fisherman, Fernando Osorio, 16, died five days later after suffering from dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke.  Another nine days elapsed before Adrian Vasquez, 18, who survived on fish and rain water, was finally saved (while unconscious) from his ordeal near the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles from where the three young men had originally sailed from.

The Guardian newspaper in the U.K has picked up on the story. One of the three passengers who spotted the small boat, Judy Meredith, 65, from Bent, Oregon, told Adrian Vernandez - Fifty Cents - Star Princessthe Guardian:  "Finding out later that the Fifty Cents continued at sea for over two more weeks was horrific news. And two of the men died and both could have lived, had the cruise ship responded to our urgent request."

Mr. Winner subsequently contacted Vasquez, who confirmed that they had seen the cruise ship and had "signaled frantically with his red T-shirt and the orange life vest, believing it would rescue them."

Mr. Winner has published AIS tracking data (see below) indicating that the Star Princess was in the area at the time.  He has written a second article: "Captain Edward Perrin - In Command Of Cruise Ship That Failed To Rescue Panamanian Castaways" which appropriately questions why the Master of the Princess cruise ship failed to respond to the emergency.  As Mr. Winner correctly points out:

Regulation 33 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Chapter V states:

"The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance,

According To The Merchant Ship Search and Rescue Manual (MERSAR):

"It is accepted as the normal practice of seamen, indeed there is an obligation upon masters, that they render every assistance within their power in cases where a person or persons are in distress at sea. These obligations are set out in regulation V/10 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea." 

Princess Cruise Ship - Star Princess - Tracking Info AISThe families of the young dead fishermen deserve an explanation why their children died at sea in this manner.

What say you Captain Perrin?  

Will Princess Cruises let you talk?

This story deserves a wider audience and discussion. Please take a moment to post the story on your facebook page, tweet it, and ask Princess Cruises and its parent company, Carnival, for an explanation.

I asked Carnival for a statement and was told to contact Princess Cruises who I have not heard from yet.

April 18, 2012 Update:  Here's Princess Cruises' official statement we received last night.  It's disappointing to received something like this 5 weeks after the incident:

"We’re aware of the allegations that Star Princess supposedly passed by a boat in distress that was carrying three Panamanian fishermen on March 10, 2012. At this time we cannot verify the facts as reported, and we are currently conducting an internal investigation on the matter.

We were very saddened to learn that two lives were lost aboard the boat, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families involved.

Princess Cruises is dedicated to the highest standards of seamanship wherever our ships sail, and it is our duty to assist any vessel in distress. We have come to the aid of many people at sea, and we will continue to do so."

April 18, 2012 Update:  NPR has a story today indicating that one of the passenger contacted Princess Cruises after the cruise to see what action was taken. She says a customer relations representative told her "the captain reported a different version of the incident — and that according to the captain's log, the ship had been passing through a fishing fleet."

Meredith says she was told that the Star Princess contacted the boat and "that they were asking the ship to move to the west, because they didn't want their nets to be damaged. And that the ship altered course. And they were waving their shirts because they were thanking the ship." 

Did Captain Edward Perrin falsify his logs?

One thing that readers should remember is that Princess is conducting what it calls an "internal" investigation.  This means that it is obviously not public.  It's a closed, secret investigation that no one will know about except Princess' management and lawyers.

The other disturbing although predictable thing is that that Bermuda, the flag state, admits that it has not even decided to conduct an investigation.  Remember, Princess incorporated in Bermuda and flies flags of convenience on its ships to avoid paying U.S. income taxes or comply with U.S. safety laws and labor / wage laws.  Bermuda has a poor record of investigating crimes and instances of dereliction of duty.    

KPIC in Oregon has a video interview with one of the cruise passengers who spotted the disabled boat and says that he is "heartbroken" by the deaths of the men he saw waving for help. 

April 19, 2012 Update:  Princess has a new PR plan.  

Princess changes course, admits error, says Captain didn't know and is "devastated."

Not as devastated as the family of the dead.

 

 

Other coverage:

Panama-Guide.com 

KTVZ Oregon Video of Judy Meredith - watch video

BBC Radio 4 - 9 minute interview of cruise passenger who spotted boat, and Jim Walker regarding maritime law (starts at 36:25 mark) 

Examiner "Princess Cruise Line accused of ignoring doomed Panamanian fishermen

Christopher Elliott "Did Princess ship ignore a vessel asking for help?"

Mail Online U.K.  "Another Costa calamity: Concordia's sister cruise liner 'ignored' passenger pleas to help stranded fishing boat... on which two of its three crew died"

Guardian newspaper U.K. (by Gwyn Topham who has also written about cruise lines' poor response to overboard passengers) 

TVN Noticias "Crucero ve a pescadores panameños varados y pasa de largo"

Sun Sentinel "Report: Carnival reviewing claims a Princess ship ignored distressed fishermen"

MSNBC: "Passengers say cruise ship ignored stranded fishing boat"

National Public radio (NPR): "Cruise Ship Didn't Aid Drifting Boat, Passengers Say"

KPIC (Oregon) Cruise Passenger Heartbroken after Princess Cruise Ship Doesn't Stop

Columbia newspaper Semana: "Crucero ve a pescadores panameños varados y pasa de largo"

Swedish newspaper: "Kryssningsfartyg uppges ha ignorerat nödställda fiskare

German newspaper:  "Kreuzfahrtschiff soll Fischer in Seenot ignoriert haben

Huffington Post: "Princess Cruise Ship Allegedly Ignores Fishing Vessel In Distress"  

Globe and Mail "Drifting fishermen die after luxury cruise liner sails past but doesn't stop"

 

Photo credits:

Top: Fifty Cents fishing boat - Jeff Gilligan

Middle:  Adrian Vasquez rescued - AP via Mail Online

Bottom: Star Princess AIS tracking - Don Winner @Panama_Guide

Fishing Tour Boat "The Erik" Capsizes in Mexican Waters

ABC News is reporting that a chartered fishing boat with 44 tourists aboard capsized and sank off Mexico's Baja California peninsula.  A 115 foot long vessel called "The Erik"  was reportedly struck by a storm and then capsized early yesterday 87 miles south of San Filipe, Mexico, in the Sea of Cortez

There are conflicting reports regarding the number of survivors. The ABC report states that  one person drowned and six others are missing. 

The U.S. Coast Guard sent a helicopter from San Diego to search for the missing.  A Coast Guard spokesperson said that the fishing boat "was close enough to shore that some people were able to swim to shore.  Other people were picked up by good Samaritan vessels that were in the area. Others were rescued by the Mexican Navy."  A Coast Guard press release indicates that the incident occurred around 2:30 in the morning on Sunday.

The ABC report indicates that the fishing boat was operated by Baja Fishing.  Other newspapers identify the operator as Baja Sportsfishing.  Internet advertising indicates that "Jig Stop Tours" of Dana Point California is the booking agent.   

Although the vessel capsized around 2:30 a.m., no distress signals were apparently sent from the vessel. 

The El Mexicano Newspaper released a list of the first 20 survivors, which included  crew members and paying passengers.  Photographs of the survivors ashore can be viewed here.

Erik Jaba Sportsfishing - Capsize - Mexico

July 5, 2011 Update:  The Dana Point Times reports that Jog Stop Tours did not book this particular fishing trip.  Seven U.S. citizens remain missing.  A news station in California reports that the "California Secretary of State website says Baja Sportfishing's business license has been suspended. It doesn't state a reason or give a date."

Photo credit:  bajasportfishinginc.com via CBSNews.com