Crew Member Fakes Disappearance From Container Ship - Faces Fine of $1,062,423

A Filipino crew member working aboard a large container ship was arrested after allegedly staging his own disappearance as part of a plot to sneak into the U.S.  

Dexter Desquitado, age 38, worked as a crew member aboard the Singapore-flagged MSC Tokyo. On October 25, 2012, a federal grand jury indicted him on charges that while the container ship was in the Gulf of Mexico heading for Alabama, he staged a scene aboard the ship to create the impression that he had gone overboard. Meanwhile, he hid in another part of the ship, with the intention of sneaking into the United States.  When the MSC ship reached the Port of Mobile, he apparently Fake Disappearance - MSC Tokyo Container Shipentered the U.S. during the vessel's cargo operations. 

In legal papers filed by the prosecuting attorneys, the U.S. Government said "The very offense involved staging his disappearance at sea, hiding in a secluded area of the ship, and then surreptitiously escaping into the United States under the cover of night."

An earlier account of the incident indicated that at approximately 2:30 a.m. on October 15th, the missing crewmember was responsible for recovering the Jacob’s ladder after the pilot arrived. The ladder was later observed down with a shoe on deck indicating the possibility of the crewmember falling overboard.

The U.S. Coast responded by launching a large (and expensive) search and rescue effort. The vessels and aircraft involved in the unnecessary search included:

  • Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew;
  • Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crew;
  • Coast Guard Station Dauphin Island 45-foot Response Boat—Medium crew;
  • The 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Seahawk crew;
  • A 40-foot Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla boat crew;
  • A 32-foot Mobile Police Department contender crew;
  • A 32-foot Alabama Marine Resources jet boat crew;
  • A 23-foot Daphne Search and Rescue boat crew; and
  • A 27-foot Bon Secour Fire Department boat crew.

If convicted, Desquitado faces a $5,000 civil penalty and $1,062,423 for the cost of the search conducted by the Coast Guard as well as Alabama and local authorities.

Our blog has covered all types of crew member disappearances, including foul play, suicides and mysteries.  This is the first time that we have learned of a crew member faking a disappearance.  

Can anyone cite to a case involving a fake disappearance of a crew member from a large commercial vessel or a cruise ship?  Please leave a comment below or comment on our facebook page.   

 

Story and video credit: Mobile News 15

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

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Finally Making Waves

The Washington Post has published an article about the new Cruise Security and Safety Act, written by veteran travel writer Christopher Eliott.  Mr. Elliott is a a travel consultant for MSNBC and a writer for National Geographic Traveler magazine and for the Consumer Travel Alliance.

The article was originally entitled " A Long Way To Go To Ensure Passengers' Safety On Cruise Ships."  The article has been widely re-printed in newspapers across the U.S.  The article below is a re-print bearing the new title " Finally Making Waves About Cruise Security."

The article contains some quotes from me, my client Laurie Dishman, the President of the International Cruise Victims association Ken Carver, and the President and Founder of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network Scott Berkowitz.  Here is the article, unedited, which appeared in the Houston Chronicle newspaper:

Finally Making Waves About Cruise Security    

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Cruise Crime Maybe you don't think of a floating vacation as a dangerous activity — after all, the last headline-grabbing sinking of a cruise liner was that of the MS Sea Diamond, which ran aground in 2007 near Santorini, Greece; two passengers disappeared and were presumed dead.  The cruise industry also contends that it has an outstanding safety record when it comes to onboard crimes such as theft and assaults.

Just one little problem: The federal government doesn't require cruise lines to report these crimes in a meaningful and systematic way, so we have to take them at their word. And some passengers don't.

Laurie Dishman counts herself among them.  She alleges that a janitor on a Royal Caribbean cruise raped her in 2006.

"I felt humiliated," the marketing director for a winery near Sacramento told a congressional hearing the following year.  "I could not believe what had happened."  Dishman's riveting testimony exposed the shortcomings of cruise ship security, prompting her representative, Doris Matsui, D-Calif., to sponsor the new legislation.  "It became grossly apparent that current law was not protecting American passengers while at sea," said Mara Lee, a spokeswoman for Matsui.

The Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act will address that problem by requiring cruise lines to report crimes promptly to the FBI and to post a link on their Web sites to a Transportation Department website listing crimes that have occurred on cruise ships.

"This will be the first time in the history of the cruise industry when a cruise ship is required to report a crime in international waters," said James Walker, a maritime lawyer based in Miami.  "The public can finally see the criminal database and determine which cruise ships have the highest crime rates."

Watch for more peepholes

Cruise lines will have to install peepholes in cabin doors and raise guard rails on many ships, and add on-deck video surveillance and an emergency sound system on all new ones.  The legislation also mandates better crime-scene response by requiring ships to carry rape kits and anti-retroviral medications and to have a trained forensic sexual assault specialist on board.

"In effect, passengers on cruise ships will start to obtain the same protection they would expect if they were at a resort here in the United States," said Ken Carver, the chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association, which advocates for victims of crimes at sea.

This law is undoubtedly a good start at regulating a business that has skirted many government regulations in the past. But is it enough?

I asked the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) about the measure, and the trade association sent me a surprisingly supportive prepared statement.  This regulation, it said, would bring "greater consistency and clarification to many industry practices and existing regulations," which include current requirements to report serious crimes to the FBI.

"The safety and security of our guests and crew is CLIA's number one priority," it added.

When I hear a trade organization that resisted this law nearly every step of the way talking like that, I can't help being a little skeptical.  (The cruise industry insists it cooperated.) So I asked Alexander Anolik, a former lawyer for several cruise lines who now practices in San Francisco, whether the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act holds water.

"It will make cruising safer," he said. "But it doesn't go far enough."

Safety at seaside

He'd like to see higher ship rails, for example. The law will require them to reach 42 inches above the deck, but they'd prevent more passengers from falling overboard if they were 54 inches.

Also, Anolik says the law should make more ships retrofit their cabins with essential safety features such as peepholes, security latches and time-sensitive key technology.

Anolik said cruise lines are probably unhappy with the legislation because, in his experience, they try to "make sure every crime is hidden."

It's hard for me to tell whether CLIA is being a dignified loser or whether it got some important concessions when the bill was being marked up. It probably doesn't matter.  Advocates for passengers see this as an important first step in improving cruise ship safety — not the last port of call.

Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which supports the measure, said that he'd like future legislation to address legal jurisdiction when a crime is committed on a cruise ship.  "This can result in huge practical barriers to prosecution, such as requirements that the victim travel to another country — at his or her own expense — several times for hearings and a trial," he said.

But the law represents a critical and essential step forward, and Dishman says it will help others like her.

"If this law was in place when I was brutally raped, there would have been evidence for a prosecution and the assailant who raped me would not be free," she told me.

Royal Caribbean has said it has a "zero-tolerance policy regarding any criminal activity" on its ships, adding, "Any allegation of a crime is treated seriously and reported to law enforcement." The company reportedly settled a lawsuit with Dishman in 2008.

Still, cruise experts agree, laws can go only so far in protecting you.  Passengers should continue to pack their common sense when they go cruising, which includes taking practical steps such as securing valuables, drinking in moderation and staying away from a ship's dark corners.

Even with these new measures in place, and the possibility of future regulation, one thing seems certain: Just because the ship isn't sinking doesn't mean that it's safe.

 

Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and for the Consumer Travel Alliance, a new nonprofit education organization. His e-mail: celliott@ngs.org
 

Credits:

Article               Christopher Eliott, Washington Post,  Houston Chronicle

Photo                jimg944 Flickr photostream

A Cruise Defense Lawyer's Summary of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

Ever since the Senate and House passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, the cruise industry and its trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) which spent millions of dollars vigorously opposing the new legislation, have minimized the ground-breaking new law. 

UK P & I Club - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act - Cruise Crime  So it was to my great interest and amusement today when a Cruise Law News (CLN) reader sent me a link to an article summarizing the new cruise law by a prominent defense lawyer for the cruise line industry.  California lawyer Lawrence Kaye authored an article entitled "Tough New US Regulations for Cruise Ships" in the UK P & I Club's newsletter.  (P & I Underwriters insure the interests of cruise lines and shipping companies).

What makes this article so interesting is that Mr. Kaye is one of the executive members of CLIA and testified before our U.S. Congress during the cruise crime hearings from 2005 - 2009.  He argued that there was no need for legislation and he advocated on behalf of CLIA to kill the crime bill. 

Mr. Kaye is one smart maritime lawyer.  We have argued cruise crime issues on television.  The cruise lines are lucky to have him as their advocate. He is equally skilled in summarizing the new law, which I have re-printed verbatim from the UK P & I Club's website, lest someone decide to delete it:

Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act 

Lawrence Kaye - Cruise Vessel Security and Safet Act  The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010, due to become US law very shortly, imposes substantial requirements on cruise ships carrying over 250 passengers on international voyages which embark or disembark passengers in any US port. They concern design and construction, medical facilities, passenger and crew information, training and measures to report and combat crime.

Non-compliance can result in denial of entry into US ports, civil penalties up to $50,000 per violation and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or one year’s imprisonment.

The Act’s requirements are set out by Lawrence W. Kaye and Andre M. Picciurro of Kaye, Rose & Partners in the latest issue of US Bodily Injury News, Published by Thomas Miller (Americas) on behalf of the UK P&I Club.

Design and construction standards. All cruise ships must meet certain design and construction standards within 18 months of enactment. Rails must be 42 inches above the cabin deck, 2.5 inches more than the US Coast Guard’s existing requirement. Passenger and crew cabin doors must have a “means of visual identification,” such as peepholes. Ships must be equipped with technology, if available, to detect persons fallen overboard, and with a video surveillance system to document crimes. In certain high risk areas, ships must have acoustic hailing and warning devices. All new-build cruise ships must provide latches and time-sensitive key technology on all passenger and crew cabin doors.

Information. Cruise ships must provide passengers and crew with a list of all US embassies and consulates in the countries they visit. Congress is discussing whether ships should provide all Cruise Safety - Cruise Ship Security - Cruise Lawpassengers with lists of medical and security personnel and law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions visited.

Sexual assaults. For treating and examining persons alleging sexual assault, the Act requires cruise ships to have on board medications to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., anti-retroviral medications); equipment and materials for performing post-assault examinations; and doctors and/or registered nurses with appropriate experience/certification in emergency medicine.

Cruise lines should make available to the patient a confidential examination report, with cruise ship personnel only entitled to see findings which will assist the master or colleague to comply with safety and reporting laws; contact information for law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, US embassies and consulates; a third party victim advocacy hotline; and private telephone and computer access to contact law enforcement, attorneys or support services. Ships must implement regulations about which crew members have access to passenger staterooms and when.

Log book and crime reporting. Ships must keep a log book (electronic or otherwise), detailing complaints of homicide, suspicious death, missing US nationals, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, sexual assault, firing or tampering with the vessel, and theft of property over $1,000. Ships must notify the nearest FBI office and send a report to the Secretary of Transportation about all such crimes (except for theft of property less than $10,000) in specific circumstances. These include where a vessel owner, regardless of his ship’s flag, is a US citizen; where an incident occurs within US territorial waters or on the high seas but involving a US national, whether victim or perpetrator; and where a US national is involved if a voyage embarks or disembarks passengers in the US, regardless of where the incident occurred.

The Transportation Secretary will maintain a public website to keep track of all such reported crimes for each cruise line whose own websites must provide a link to the Secretary’s.

Crime scene preservation. The Transportation Secretary is obliged to develop training standards and curricula for certification of passenger vessel security personnel, focusing “on the appropriate methods for prevention, detection, evidence preservation, and reporting of criminal activities in the international maritime environment” within one year of enactment. Two years after such standards and curricula are established, cruise ships may only enter US ports if they have at least one certificated crew member on board.

Cruise Ship - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

Larry Kaye has no doubt that this legislation is “a priority item for passenger ship operators. Upon enactment, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act will immediately address the issues of crimes and missing persons on cruise ships by imposing medical care and security protocols on cruise operators. It also imposes a rigorous timetable for a wide range of mandatory design and operational improvements to those ships within a two-year period.”

Louise Livingston, who leads Thomas Miller (America’s) Bodily Injury Team, added: “This review of the latest legislative developments for cruise operators has widespread relevance. All UK Club members should be aware of the speed and extent of regulatory change that can arise from a combination of high profile incidents and the political lobbying that is associated with them.”

 

Credits:

UK P & I Club                    UK P & I Club

Larry Kaye, Esq.              Kaye Rose & Partners LLP

Freedom of the Seas    greenbriar DemocraticUnderground.com