Princess Cruises Sued By Panama Castaway Over Rescue Failure

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on May 14 2012 10:20 AM
Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises said there was a "breakdown in communication" after passengers spotted a small boat adrift with three Panamanian fishermen. The Star Princess cruise ship did not stop -- and two of the fishermen perished before the third was rescued by another ship. REUTERS

Panamanian fisherman Adrian Vazquez has sued Princess Cruises -- a unit of the Carnival Corp. (NYSE: CCL) -- after the Star Princess failed to rescue him and his now-deceased companions.

Lawyer Edna Ramos filed the lawsuit alleging negligence in a Florida state court on behalf of the lone survivor. According to Ramos, the lawsuit will include testimony from passengers on board the cruise liner who saw the stranded fishermen and sought help from the crew.

Last month, Princess Cruises said it deeply regretted that two Panamanian men perished at sea after the Star Princess failed to come to their aid.

The statement came amid growing anger that the cruise ship did not abide by the law of the sea to provide assistance to any vessel in distress.

The three Panamanian men were on their way home from a fishing trip near Rio Hato, a fishing and farming town on the Pacific coast of Panama, when the motor in their small panga rattled and quit. That was Feb. 24. They drifted out to sea for 16 days and were more than 100 miles from land when they saw the Star Princess sail by.

The lone survivor, 18-year-old Vasquez, said he and his companions, Fernando Osorio, 16, and Elvis Oropeza, 31 were sure they would be saved. He told the Associated Press he waved a red sweater to get the attention of those on the ship.

Tio, look what's coming over there, Vasquez recalled alerting Oropeza, the boat's skipper. We felt happy, because we thought they were coming to rescue us.

But the Star Princess didn't stop. The fishing boat drifted for another two weeks before it was found on March 22 near Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, over 600 miles from home. By then, Vasquez was the only one alive.

I said, 'God will not forgive them,' Vasquez told the AP after his eventual rescue. Today, I still feel rage when I remember that.

The cruise ship came within view of the fishing boat on March 10 and birdwatchers Jeff Gilligan and Judy Meredith, both from Oregon, spotted the men from the promenade deck.

They alerted a member of the ship's staff about a man waving a red cloth and allowed the crew member to look through their scopes. The Princess Cruises sales representative promised to pass the news on to the appropriate officials, but -- according to Princess Cruises -- that message never got to the captain.

The preliminary results of our investigation have shown that there appeared to be a breakdown in communication in relaying the passenger's concern, the cruise company said in a statement. Neither Captain Edward Perrin nor the officer of the watch were notified. Understandably, Captain Perrin is devastated that he is being accused of knowingly turning his back on people in distress. Had the Captain received this information, he would have had the opportunity to respond.

Princess Cruises claims it has come to the rescue of ships at sea 30 times in the last 10 years and promised that if the captain knew about the drifting fishermen, the Star Princess would have done the same.

But that means little to the lone survivor.

Vazquez describes a tale of harrowing survival. He joined his friends on the fishing trip after losing his job at a local hotel. What started as a way to earn a few extra bucks turned into an epic struggle for his life. The three men had just five gallons of water and a pile of raw fish to start with. They ate the fish until they rotted and then survived on the occasional coconut floating in the sea.

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