June 4, 2012
(May 14, 12:42 p.m. EDT) -- Adrian Vasquez, the Panamanian fisherman who survived for 28 days while adrift in the Pacific Ocean, has filed suit in a Florida court alleging negligence on the part of Princess Cruises.
The lawsuit centers on Star Princess' alleged failure to aid Vasquez and two companions who went adrift in March after the engine on their three-meter-long open fishing vessel failed. Vasquez's two companions ultimately died of dehydration.
According to the BBC, Vasquez's attorney, Edna Ramos, said the lawsuit includes testimony from two passengers, bird watchers, who spotted the stricken vessel and notified Princess crew.
"Because of what we suspect was a case of unfortunate miscommunication, regretfully the Captain of the Star Princess [Edward Perrin] was never notified of the passengers' concern," says Princess in a statement. "Had he been advised, he would have had the opportunity to respond, as he has done numerous times throughout his career. This is an upsetting and emotional issue for us all, as no employee onboard a Princess ship would purposefully ignore someone in distress." As Princess and its flag state of Bermuda are still conducting investigations into the incident, the cruise line cannot disclose further details about its findings.
Princess adds that it has come to the aid of distressed mariners more than 30 times in the last 10 years. International maritime law dictates that all ship commanders are obliged to assist those in danger of being lost at sea.
The story was first reported in mid-April by Don Winner on his Web site, Panama-Guide.com. According to Winner, three avid birders using powerful binoculars spotted a fishing boat as Star steamed from Manta, Ecuador, to Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. One of the three, American Jeff Gilligan, told NPR that it was a "moderate-size boat with a person standing up in it, waving a dark piece of cloth."
The trio said they alerted the first crewmember they saw, and that person allegedly contacted the bridge. According to NPR, a crewmember used Gilligan's telescope to get a closer look at the drifting boat.
Gilligan's birder friend, American Judy Meredith, told NPR they never heard back from the crew, and the ship continued on its course. Meredith attempted to reach out to the Coast Guard via its Web site but said she did not hear back.
On March 19, the Ecuadorean coast guard found a fishing boat, the Fifty Cent, near the Galapagos with just one person onboard, 18-year-old Adrian Vasquez. At the time, Vasquez told media outlets that his friend, Oropeces Betancourt, 24, died of dehydration on March 11. Fernando Osorio, 16, died four days later from dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke. Vasquez said he spent 28 days adrift at sea before being rescued.
Winner, who started reporting the story in late March, linked up with Meredith, who, after scouring the Web for stories on the incident, had become convinced that Vasquez's boat was the one she saw from Star Princess. Gilligan sent Winner a photo of the boat, which was shown to Vasquez during the interview pictured below. Vasquez identified his boat and said they had indeed spotted a cruise ship.
According to the U.K's Guardian newspaper, when Meredith found out what happened, she contacted Princess looking for answers. She said a Princess representative told her that the "ship's log had recorded 'contact' with nearby fishermen, who thanked them for avoiding their nets." The Guardian reports that neither Meredith nor Gilligan recall seeing any other boats that day; other passengers, including Cruise Critic readers on the same cruise, have suggested there were other boats in sight.
--by the Cruise Critic Editorial staff