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 - the 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 the 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."
The 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.
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)
Christopher Elliott "Did Princess ship ignore a vessel asking for help?"
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"
National Public radio (NPR): "Cruise Ship Didn't Aid Drifting Boat, Passengers Say"
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"
Top: Fifty Cents fishing boat - Jeff Gilligan
Middle: Adrian Vasquez rescued - AP via Mail Online
Bottom: Star Princess AIS tracking - Don Winner @Panama_Guide