August 30, 2012 Updated August 31, 2012
The line has released information it believes definitively shows that a boat spotted on March 10 and photographed by three Star Princess passengers was not Fifty Cent, a three-meter-long panga that was left adrift in March after its engine failed. Adrian Vasquez, an 18-year-old Panamanian fisherman, was rescued March 23 by the Ecuadorian Coast Guard after 28 days at sea (his count), his two companions having died of dehydration.
At the time of the alleged sighting, one of the three passengers, avid bird-watchers with powerful spotting scopes, photographed what they thought was a distressed fishing boat. The birders said they alerted the first Star Princess crewmember they saw, and that person allegedly contacted the bridge. The cruise ship continued on its course. In a statement, Princess says "the ship's bridge staff did not see signs of distress and therefore did not stop or notify the ship's captain."
According to Princess' statement, the line hired Michael Snyder, a retired photo analyst and photogrammetry expert from NASA's Johnson Space Center, to compare newly discovered video of Fifty Cent immediately after its March 23 rescue with the original bird-watcher's photo. The line says Snyder concluded that the boats were not the same.
The line further says it commissioned a "drift analysis" by Weather Routing, Inc., a private meteorological consulting firm. The analysis, which is said to have charted the movement of the two vessels taking into account ocean current, wind and wave data, concluded that it is unlikely that the boat photographed by the birders was Fifty Cent.
"We'll never know what boat was spotted by the passengers, or if they were in distress," said Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson in an e-mail to Cruise Critic. "However, we've done a comprehensive investigation of this incident, and we have heard of no reports of any missing vessels in the area."
Benson added that the line has reached out to the birders with the results of the line's findings. "They said it was good to hear and a relief," she wrote.
An investigation being conducted by the ship's flag State, Bermuda remains active, says Julie Benson.
Princess says six lawsuits have been brought against it by Vasquez and the relatives of the two deceased mariners. Given the new information, the line says it has "demanded the lawsuits be immediately dismissed and has offered to waive its right to seek recovery of legal costs, citing sympathy for the victims of Fifty Cent's ordeal."
Alan Buckelew, president and CEO of Princess, says the line is "gratified to have scientific confirmation that Star Princess was never in the vicinity of the adrift boat."
"Nevertheless," he added, "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."
Princess reiterated that, at the time of the incident, its ships have come to the aid of distressed mariners more than 30 times in the last decade. International maritime law dictates that all ship commanders are obliged to assist those in danger of being lost at sea.
--by Dan Askin, Senior Editor
--Photo appears courtesy of Princess Cruises.