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:


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

  • Mary smith

    I heard this on NPR today, 4/19. I then searched
    the Internet to read about it. One article stated that
    the American woman from Oregon also emailed US Coast
    Guard. I want to know what the US Coast Guard did
    then, and the response it received. This is a tragic story.

  • Martin Andino
  • Debbie

    This is a horrible crime. The cruise line and Captain must be put in the lime light and held accountable!

  • Mark Wilson

    It appears to me that the big cruise line companies need to undergo some major investigation… and perhaps the coastguard as well… this was a totally avoidable tragedy and someone needs to be held accountable….

  • David Browne

    The captain’s report that the 26 foot fishing boat was fishing in the middle of the Pacific is ridiculous. A 26 foot boat would not only have no ability to refigerate its catch, which would mean its catch would be rotten well before the boat would reach port but a tiny boat like that would not be able to carry enough fuel to return to port. The caption should have been immediately fired for such a report on the grounds of his stupidity. After all, anyone sending out such a report thinking that it would be believed must be terminally stupid. Such a report should also be used as evidence that he was lying through his teeth. He should have his master’s ticket taken away and have his face displayed across the media for the world to see. He is a dispicable excuse of a ‘human’ being.

  • Janene Armstrong

    The captain was either unwilling to give the fishermen the time of day or he flat out is a chauvinist. If those birdwatchers were men, those poor guys would be alive today.

  • Bob Mac

    1. This is the same Capt Perrin who successfully rescued two young passengers who fell overboard from Grand Princess on 25 March 2007. That should tell you all you need to know of his seamanship, ability and character.
    2. Jim – perhaps you will be less strident in your criticism of the next cruise ship that manages to do the right thing by Cuban rafters adrift in the Straits of Florida. Similar to your portrayal of crew members as either serial sea offenders or downtrodden exploited citizens of the 3rd World depending on the point you wish to make. I guess it’s your website so you can do as you wish but your lack of balance does you and your objectives no credit.

  • Patrick
  • “Bob Mac”

    Captain Perrin getting praise for stopping and picking up two passengers who went overboard from his own ship? Give me a break. That’s the high point in his career?

    Can’t compare a cruise ship intercepting Cubans trying to sail to the US, with Captain Perrin’s neglect of a disabled boat 100 from Panama drifting out to sea leaving 2 young men to die.

    World opinion is against you and your English friend.

    How are things in Norwich?

  • This just further highlights the pompous attitude of the cruise industry and their seeming disregard for peons afloat on their waterways. God forbid they stop and pick up some smelly kids in distress. Would not want to soiil the decks and incur the cost of treatment in their on-board hospital.

  • Sailing Group

    Thank you Cruise Law News……..

    This letter was sent to Princess Cruise Line

    After reading the incident at sea on March 10, 2012 when the Star Princess failed to respond to an emergency, we are outraged by the conduct of your captain. Until this matter is addressed, our group will never step foot on a Princess or parent company cruise line again.

    This makes us, as a passenger worry about our own safety when a captain has no regard for other lives. We are afraid to think what the captain would do to cover himself if an incident happened at sea on the ship.

    We are very saddened about this incident and hope it will be brought to the proper channels. At this point, you can give the cruise away and we would not sail on it, we do value life.

    Our group loves to sail but will make every effort to bring this incident to the attention of everyone we possibly can. As a parent of young men myself, this is something we can not sit still about.

    I hope this letter is brought to the proper department because it will be passed around in hope that Captain Perrin or any other captain in your company would never treat life this way again.


    Concerned Clients

  • Barbara

    We have sailed twice with Captain Perrin. I believe if he had been told of the sighting nothing would have kept him from rescuing those men.

    On our first cruise with Captain Perrin two college kids fell overboard very late at night. He immediately turned the ship around and searched for those two young people for 5 hours – found them and plucked them from the sea. Both lived to tell the tale. Without his determination and seamanship they would have surely lost their lives.

  • Jean-Loup Hall

    I’ve read many reports on this tragic situation .Princess Cruises,the crew and the Captain have a lot to answer for but I haven’t seen anyone ask the question as to why the passengers, who made the report of the sighting, waited until they made dock before following up on the matter. How can you observe human beings in distress, report it and seeing no action taken, wait at least two days before asking anymore questions? Why didn’t they demand some answers from the crew? Officers and the Captain are available to the passengers if they demand to speak to them, aren’t they? They could have Yelled to other passengers as to what was happening and demanded them to help get some action. I just don’t understand how something like this can happen and people just accept it like ” well we reported it and we just assumed that something was being done”

  • Barbara Rose

    I was on the Star Princess 2 weeks prior to this event. We had several medical emerg. including the ship had to turn back to Maui when we were sailing home. The Capt. keep us advised of the patients condition plus many other delays. Everyone talked about how great it was to have a Capt. who keep us advised. I am a nurse and also a cruise agent for 40yrs.I have been on 100 cruises and I trust the Capts.
    log and we don’t know the conditions, how soon the brige was notifyed if it was the same fisherman. The had nothing to do with the Costa and other #shipping stories. The press and blogers want to sensationalize any thing they can. Barbara Rose San Francisco

  • Terry

    We were on this very cruise. We spoke to the “bird watchers” on a couple of ocassions. They were very “intelligent”. IF they said they saw a boat in distress then that is what they saw. It makes us sick to our stomachs that two people had to die because of the negligence of the crew and the captain of Star Princess.

  • Bob Mac

    Hi Jim

    Since you ask the weather is rain with temperatures of 8 to 13C (46 to 56F).

    1. Too bad you aren’t impressed by the double rescue off Grand Princess. Seems the USCG were as they gave my “English Friend” a commendation.

    2. Per witness statements posted on this site the comparison between Cuban Boaters and these fishermen are clear. Out of water, no engine and the Gulf Stream mnoving them happily towards Bermuda and Northern Europe. Criticise your Governments policy all you like but do not slam Seafarers when they fulfil their obligations.

    How’s it in Miami?

  • Ah Bob Mac returns to again praise the good captain Perrin.

    A medal perhaps to the Captain for stopping the cruise ship when two American love birds carrying on the tradition of the love boat on a balcony went overboard?

    But Panamanians drifting 100 miles out to sea? How easy to look the other way.

    How does the Captain and his entire bridge team not see what the birders readily saw?

    Birds of a feather flock together, it seems.

    A bit chilly for Miami this morning at 60 degrees. Should be sunny and around 80 by this afternoon.

  • Dominic Ng

    Oops. It happened on March 10. I was on board the Star Princess myself. I did not hear anything about this incidence on board the ship. That means this incidence was not elevated high enough to be considered urgent. I did not even hear anything from the dining room waiters or the buffet waiters or fellow passengers. How many people saw that fishing boat anyway. There were lots of people on the ship and why the 3 bird watchers not tell other peoples too if they believe that to be a distress fishing boat, they should do whatever they can including climbing up the life boat themselves to get the attention of the captain. Or ask somebody to climb up the life boat. May be they did not want to alarm other pasengers? This is life and deadth. I don’t mind to be alarmed. I think people nowadays are too apathetic. None the less, If I knew about the incidence. I certainly would not stop at anything until I saw the captain myself and ask for his explanation of why no rescue operation. The captain was a very nice guy and I do not believe that he will not rescue the fishermen.

  • dominic ng

    If we do a Postpartum now about the incidence, there is a big question to ask.
    Did the birdwatchers really believe that the fishermen were in trouble and required help?
    If the answer is Yes, then it was the birdwatchers inability to raise this situation to the attention of the captain. There was no fault on the birdwatcher part because they told somebody. But, they certainly cannot be called Heroes. It was their inability or indifference that indirectly caused the death of the 2 fishermen. They would go to the room and used internet to notify some people while the help is right at hand if they stop at nothing until they got the captains attention and met with the captain face to face to discuss the situation. If they were real Heroes, they would stop at nothing until they got some response from the captain directly right there and then. Time is of the essence. Heroes go into burning houses to rescue people. Heroes stop at nothing until they got the results.
    If the answer is No, then Case Closed and nobody is at fault, not even the captain, because people in smaller boats waived at big cruise ship all the time everywhere.

  • gary

    We were on this cruise and spoke to these birders numerous times while we walked the excercise deck. We consider them to have been very credible. It appears that they took all reasonable steps to inform authority. I can confirm, from concurrent shipboard experiences, that Princess has a major problem connecting passengers who experience problems with crewmembers who are empowered to effect corrective change. The attitude was one of appeasement rather than resolution. Given this frustrating onboard culture, I can easily envision that Captain Perrin may never have received the message from his subordinates.

  • Dominic Ng

    Hi Gary.
    Did the bird watchers tell you the story. Did you hear anything about this incidence at all. I believe that if they act as concern individual, they should raise enough hell and tell everybody what they saw. If they demanded to see the captain about this right there and then. The story would have come out a lot happier with 3 men being rescued rather than 2 dead. We should learn a lesson from this.

  • Miguel Rodriguez

    It could have been just as what the Captain says a breakdown in communication. It was an unfortunate event that the message was not relayed to the Bridge and also unfortunate that the message was not relayed, and relayed again and again by those who saw the distressed people until they got the attention of someone who can respond onboard. A small boat as such can easily be missed I am witness to many occasions when the Star Princess stop even for a floating empty boat to check if it was in distress.

  • dale anderson

    Captain Perrin And his crew suck- I believe the ships crew Was notified What did nothing about it- They tried to cover it up By saying They were waving at The ship To avoid there nets- All your internal investigation is A ploy to cover it up And let it get swept under the carpet- Captain Perrin Should be held accountable for his actions. Which wllver happen You guys suck You pollute our puget sound waters get the hell out of seattle

  • Maureen Dorion

    I am so saddened that 2 young people died. My thoughts and prayers are with the families. The Princess line was of interest to me for a family vacation to Alaska in the near future,but after reading this tragic story of the 3 young men, I would never travel with this cruise line.

  • Bridget Lodahl

    I was not on that cruise, however, I just, today, returned from a cruise on the Star Princess from Seattle to Alaska.
    Yesterday en-route from Ketchikan, AK to Victoria, BC. we were alerted, by the Captain, that our ship was turning around to aid a sailboat in distress. When returning the sailboat actually sank leaving three passengers clinging to life vests in the cold water of the Pacific Ocean!

    We arrived simultaneously with the Coast Guard & the rescue helicopter and waited while they determined if the sailboat passengers should be brought aboard for medical care.

    Needless to say we were very late arriving in Victoria causing shore tours to be cancelled or delivered in the dark. I don’t think either the crew or the cruise guests minded the delay.

    Regards, B. Lodahl

  • Bridget

    What was the outcome of this case?