Cruise line says ship didn’t pass stranded boat

Sep 1, 2012, 12:31 AM

Associated Press

(AP) – Six months after two Panamanian fishermen died at sea, an American cruise line says it has new information that contradicts claims that one of its ships ignored the drifting fishing boat’s distress signals.

Princess Cruises said in a statement Thursday that it compared a video of the fishermen’s boat when it was found off Ecuador with a photograph of the boat taken by birdwatchers aboard the Star Princess off Panama last March and concluded they were not the same.

The video, taken by someone on the fishing boat that rescued survivor Adrian Vasquez, clearly shows the name “Fifty Cent” painted in big red letters on the bow, while the photo of the boat taken from the deck of the Star Princess does not.

The birdwatchers notified the ship’s crew that men on the small boat were signaling and appeared to be in trouble, but the ship never changed course to help them. Princess, based in Santa Clarita, Calif., has said that word never reached the captain, and the crew on the bridge saw no signs of distress.

Vasquez and the families of the two fishermen who died are suing the cruise line.

The 18-year-old Vazquez and his companions, Fernando Osorio, 16, and Elvis Oropeza, 31, set off for a night of fishing on Feb. 24 from Rio Hato, a small fishing and farming town on the Pacific coast of Panama that was once the site of a U.S. Army base guarding the Panama Canal. Their motor broke down on the way back and the men drifted at sea for weeks. Osorio and Oropeza died. Vazquez was rescued by a fishing boat March 22 near Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, more than 600 miles from where they had set out.

Vasquez’ attorney, attorney Edna Ramos, said they have proof the boat seen by the birdwatchers was the same boat, including the fact that the ship passengers described a blue sailcloth or tarp aboard the vessel, of the same kind his boat had.

“You can see photos in which the same characteristics are seen … you can see the blue tarp, which had fallen down by the time of the rescue, and the poles that held it up,” she said.

“The cruise company is just trying to extend this, to wear us out until we give up,” she said. “We are ready to fight for years. This is the message that we want to transmit to mankind: we cannot become insensitive to human suffering. This was simply condemning them to death of great suffering. This is not just a lawsuit against the cruise company, it is a message to mankind.”

The cruise line said it had the video and the photo analyzed by Michael Snyder, a retired photo analyst and photogrammetry expert from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, who concluded that they were different boats.

Jeff Gilligan, of Portland, Ore., who took photos of a small boat from the deck of the Star Princess, said he had no comment on whether it is the same boat.

Princess added that the captain of the fishing boat that rescued Vasquez gave a sworn statement saying Vasquez never said anything about seeing a cruise ship pass by when he told of his ordeal.

A drift analysis charting the movements of the two boats by Weather Routing Inc., a meteorological consulting firm, concluded it was unlikely the Fifty Cent was the boat sighted by the passengers, Princess said.

“While this remains a tragic story, we are gratified to have scientific confirmation that Star Princess was never in the vicinity of the adrift boat and that the boat photographed by our passengers was not the adrift Fifty Cent,” Alan Buckelew, president and CEO of Princess Cruises, said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, we have used this as a valuable learning opportunity and have strengthened our bridge reporting procedures to ensure that all messages of concern from passengers or crew are carefully evaluated by our senior bridge officers,” he said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Cruise line says ship didn’t pass stranded boat