The drifting fishermen saw the cruise ship and thought they were saved... but the Star Princess didn't stop

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Passengers were amazed when their British captain sailed on – and horrified to learn later that two of the castaways died

The British captain of a cruise ship that steamed past a drifting fishing boat with three men on board, two of whom were later to die, was said yesterday to be "devastated" by what had happened. Captain Edward Perrin, of the Star Princess, may not have received word of the stricken boat on 10 March as the Grand Class liner made passage in the Pacific Ocean from Ecuador towards Costa Rica, even though at least three passengers have said they saw a man on the boat through binoculars and alerted crew members.

They said the man was waving a red piece of cloth in what seemed clearly to be a distress signal. Last week, the sole survivor from the boat, 18-year-old Adrian Vasquez, confirmed he had waved a red sweater upon seeing the ship, 16 days after he and his friends had set off from their Panamanian home port on a fishing trip. On the day the Star Princess sailed past, they had already drifted 100 miles out to sea following the failure of their boat's engine.

"Look what's coming over there," Mr Vasquez recalled saying to his boat-mates after spotting the giant liner in the distance. "We felt happy, because we thought they were coming to rescue us." Instead, the Star Princess steamed past them and over the blue-hazed horizon. "I said, 'God will not forgive them'," Mr Vasquez said. "Today, I still feel rage when I remember that."

It was another 18 days before Mr Vasquez was hauled to safety by another fishing vessel. By then, the tiny boat, the Fifty Cents, had been carried by currents almost as far as the Galapagos Islands. Both of his friends had died. After their bodies had started to rot he had pushed them over the side. As Mr Vasquez and the passengers who saw him start to speak to the media, the owner of the Star Princess, Carnival plc, is facing fresh embarrassment. It comes only three months after a vessel from Costa Cruises, which it also owns, sank off Italy, killing 32 passengers.

Under international maritime law, cruise ships are obliged to go to the aid of other vessels in distress if it presents no danger to passengers. In a statement yesterday, Carnival, a British-American company based in Southampton that also owns Cunard and Holland America, said its investigation was continuing but first findings suggested there had been a "miscommunication" on board after the passengers saw the small boat.

The line "deeply regrets that two Panamanian men perished," it said. "The preliminary results of our investigation have shown that there appeared to be a breakdown in communication in relaying the passengers' concern. 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." The company said that Princess cruise liners had undertaken rescue operations 30 times in the past 10 years. "If Perrin had received the information, he would have been able to respond appropriately," it said. "We all understand that it is our responsibility and also the law of the sea to provide assistance to any vessel in distress, and it is not an uncommon occurrence for our ships to be involved in a rescue at sea."

There is also anguish, meanwhile, for those passengers who tried to alert the ship to what they had seen from the deck through bird-watching binoculars. They have said they were denied access to the bridge even though they had shown the boat and man waving to a Princess representative.

Judy Meredith, of Oregon, said she not only told a crew member of what she had seen but also went to her cabin, took the ship's coordinates off a feed on her television and emailed the US Coast Guard. Last week, she said the line had told her after she had returned home that the bridge may have misinterpreted the waving to mean the fishermen wanted the ship to steer clear of its fishing nets. But Ms Meredith said she never had any doubt of the fishermen's plight. "You don't wave a shirt like that just to be friendly," she said. "He was desperate to get our attention."

"It was very disturbing," said Jeff Gilligan, another passenger from Oregon who had seen the boat. "We asked other people, 'What do you think we should do?' Their reaction was, 'Well, you've done what you could do.' Whether something else could have been done, that's a bit frustrating to think about. My only theory is the people on the bridge have seen a lot of fishing boats. And they were on a tight schedule and they let the schedule cloud their judgement."

Mr Vasquez, who agreed to go on the fishing trip in the hope of earning a little money after being laid off from his job as a gardener in a hotel, said he and his friends at first stayed alive by eating fish they had caught and conserving the little water they had taken with them. But the water ran out and the fish turned rotten. He survived only because it later rained, providing him with water to drink.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links