Panamanian castaway sues owners of cruise ship that failed to come to his rescue


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The Independent US

A Panamanian fisherman has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a luxury cruise ship claiming that it failed to come to his rescue as he drifted in a stricken boat with two friends, even though at least two passengers on the liner have said they saw them signalling for help and passed the information on to crew members.

The lawsuit alleging fatal negligence on the part of Princess Cruise Lines, which is owned by Anglo-American Carnival Cruises, was filed in a Florida court on behalf of Adrian Vazquez, according to the lawyer representing him, Edna Ramos.  It includes testimony from the two passengers who saw the stricken boat.

Princess Cruises said yesterday there appeared to have been a “case of unfortunate miscommunication,” on the ship, the Star Princess, and that the alert about the disabled boat was never relayed to the British captain of the vessel, Edward Perrin.  In a statement it added that the company would withhold all further preliminary findings of an internal investigation into the incident pending the results of an inquiry launched separately by the authorities in the Bahamas, where the liner is registered. 

Mr Vasquez left the Panamanian port of Rio Hato, at the Pacific mouth of the Panama Canal, on 24 February for a brief fishing trip in his small boat, the Fifty Cent, with two friends, Evlis Oropeza, 31, and Fernando Osoria, 16.  Their engine failed and they had been drifting at sea without power for 16 days when they spotted the cruise liner coming towards them on 10 March.

Mr Vazques was finally found alive and rescued from the Fifty Cents on 22 March near the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles from where he had begun his journey. His ordeal lasted 28 days. By then, both Mr Osoria and Mr Oropeza had died due to dehydration and Mr Vazquez had pushed their decomposing bodies overboard. All three men were alive when the Star Princess passed by them.

Two passengers on board the liner, Jeff Gilligan and Judy Meredith, both bird-watching enthusiasts from Oregon, have described to reporters seeing the disabled boat from on deck through birding scopes. They said they someone waving a dark red item of clothing, perhaps a T-Shirt, and assumed it was a distress signal.  They then took immediate steps to alert crew members to what they had seen. 

Specifically, Ms Meredith has claimed she told a Princess Cruises Lines sales representative on board about the tiny fishing vessel and let the representative see the boat through her scope. Both passengers were assured that the bridge would be notified. Ms Meredith also went to her cabin, she has said, and emailed the US Coast Guard about the boat relaying the liner’s coordinates at the time, which were available on its television channel.

“Regretfully the Captain of the Star Princess was never notified of the passengers’ concern. Had he been advised, he would have had the opportunity to respond, as he has done numerous times throughout his career,” Princess Cruises said in the statement yesterday, adding: “This is an upsetting and emotional issue for us all, as no employee onboard a Princess ship would purposefully ignore someone in distress.” In the last 10 years, its vessels have been involved in 30 rescue operations at sea, the company added.

At the time of the incident, the Star Princess was crossing through Pacific waters from Ecuador, south of the Panama Canal, to Costa Rica.