Stranded fishermen Adrian Vazquez receiving medical attention from the Ecuadorian navy after being plucked from the Pacific

Death at Sea: Fisherman Sues Princess Cruise Line After Being Stranded at Sea and Watching Friends Die

ICTMN Staff
5/15/12

Adrian Vazquez, an 18-year old Panamanian fisherman who survived 28 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean, is suing Princess Cruise Lines for negligence. The lawsuit was filed in Florida last week, arguing that the Star Princess, one of Princess Cruise Lines' ships, should have stopped and saved him and his two friends. Instead, the suit says, despite the ship's crew being alerted of Vasquez and his companions signaling for help from their fishing boat by three passengers who were birdwatching, the Star Princess chugged ahead to its destination of Puntarenas, Coast Rica, abandoning Vasquez and his friends to their fate.

CNN.com reports that the lawsuit claims the behavior of the officers or crew members of the Star Princess was "outrageous, and, under the circumstances, so beyond all bounds of decency as to be regarded as shocking, atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

The Associated Press got hold of this photo taken by Jeff Gilligan, one of the three passenger on the Star Princess who alerted the crew to the ship, showing Vazquez's fishing vessel, "Fifty Cents," adrift in the Pacific off the Galapagos Islands.

The AP reports that on the night of February 24, Vazquez, 16-year old Fernando Osorio and 24-year old Oropeces Betancourt set off for a night of fishing from the small fishing and farming town Rio Hato, on the Pacific coast of Panama. On the way back their motor broke down, and they drifted at sea for 16 days before spotting a cruise ship approaching, on March 10.

CNN.com reports that the suit claims that despite the fact that crew members "had clear knowledge that people were stranded in an open boat hundreds of miles from shore in the Pacific Ocean and desperately calling for their help, they consciously ignored the emergency and did not deviate from their cruise."

At the time of this contact between Vazquez's vessel and the Star Princess, his companions were alive.  Yet later that same day, according to the lawsuit, 16-year old Osorio died, "having lost all hope as the Star Princess steamed away." Five days after that, the 24-year old Betancourt died at sea.

According to CNN.com's coverage of the lawsuit, two days after spotting the fishermen, the three birdwatching Star Princess passengers followed up with a ship officer, inquiring about the fate of the tiny fishing boat after they had issued their report. "This officer did not have an answer for them and walked away without explanation," the lawsuit states.

One of the lawsuit's contentions is that the Star Princess failed to stop because the cruise ship's crew didn't want to go off schedule for their stop in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, which would cost them money. The Star Princess arrived in Puntarenas on March 11. Princess Cruises spokeswoman, Karen Candy, told CNN in an email that the notion the crew didn't help the fishermen for financial reasons is "absolutely false."

Princess Cruises released this statement on Monday:  "Because of what we suspect was a case of unfortunate miscommunication, regretfully the captain of the Star Princess was never notified of the passengers' concern. Had he been advised, he would have had the opportunity to respond, as he has done numerous times throughout his career," the statement said. "This is an upsetting and emotional issue for us all, as no employee onboard a Princess ship would purposefully ignore someone in distress. It is our ethical and maritime responsibility to provide assistance to any vessel in need, 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 over the last decade."

MSNBC.com reported on April 19 that Princess Cruises claims the captain of the Star Princess,  Edward Perrin was never notified about the fishing boat with the three man adrift.

Cruise ship passenger Gilligan told CNN, "We were looking through powerful spotting scopes before I took those photographs, and we -- the three of us -- couldn't come up with any reasonable explanation why somebody would have been flagging with two different colors of cloth, clothing or whatever it was, to our ship from perhaps two miles away on a little boat that wasn't moving, over 100 miles from the coast."

Adrian Vasquez gets treatment after being rescued by the Ecuadorian navy on March 21.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for Vazquez's physical, emotional, and psychological injuries. He was eventually rescued by the Ecuadorian navy north of the Galapagos Islands, but not before having to watch his companions die, and push them overboard due to their body's decomposition.

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