Princess Cruises of Santa Clarita issued a statement Thursday saying its Star Princess captain never knew his passengers were worried about a distressed fishing boat that apparently tried to flag them down off of Panama on March 10.
Two of the three fishermen aboard the boat, one 16 and one 24, died after the Star Princess allegedly sailed away without stopping.
“The preliminary results of our investigation have shown that there appeared to be a breakdown in communication in relaying the passenger’s concern,” Princess said in the statement.
The company said it has been investigating the incident since it became aware of it but did not say when that was. It issued the statement amid a sudden whirlwind of media attention.
“Neither Captain Edward Perrin nor the officer of the watch were notified,” the statement said. “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.”
Photo shot by Star Princess passenger Jeff Gilligan, 61, of Portland, allegedly showing the crew of the Fifty Cents signaling for help March 10.
International maritime law – specifically Chapter V of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, or “SOLAS V” – requires the masters of all vessels on the sea to offer assistance to mariners in distress without exception.
“We all understand that it is our responsibility and also the law of the sea to provide assistance to any vessel in distress,” Princess said, “and it is not an uncommon occurrence for our ships to be involved in a rescue at sea. In fact, we have done so more than 30 times in the last 10 years.”
According to the Orlando (Fla.) Business Journal, Carnival Corp., Princess’ Florida-based parent company, has launched an internal inquiry.
The Guardian of London and others report that three birdwatchers aboard the Star Princess spotted three people in a boat – later identified as the Fifty Cents – who were waving red T-shirts and orange life vests at them. The passengers allegedly alerted the Princess ship’s crew, who did not stop to render aid.
Later that same night, one of the fishermen, Oropeces Betancourt, 24, died of dehydration. Five days later, Fernando Osorio, 16, died of dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke.
The third fisherman, Adrian Vasquez, 18, pushed his friends’ bodies overboard. Alone for nine more days, he was rescued on or about March 24 when another fishing boat spotted the Fifty Cents near the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles from its home port.
Vasquez reportedly told Panamanian media he survived because it started to rain and he managed to fill containers with rainwater.
The three fishermen reportedly set off Feb. 24 from Rio Hato, Panama. Their motor failed as they attempted to return home. In all, their boat is believed to have been stranded for 28 days.
According to the Guardian of London, a Carnival spokesman said, “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.”
For its part, Princess is “continuing our investigation to fully understand the circumstances,” the company said in Thursday’s statement.