It sounds like something straight out of a nightmare: You’re on a small fishing vessel, adrift in the Pacific. You see a ship in the distance, and you signal for help. But it keeps going.
Nearly a month later, when you’re finally rescued, two of your crewmates are dead. Had that ship responded to your plea for help, they’d still be alive today.
It wasn’t a dream for Adrian “Santi” Vasquez, who was adrift on an Ecuadoran fishing vessel near the Galapagos Islands more than 28 days. Three alert birdwatchers on the Star Princess saw the stricken fishing vessel and alerted the ship’s crew.
Here’s an interview with the surviving crew member in which he identifies the ship.
There’s a more detailed story on NPR, which aired this morning.
If it is true that the Princess crew failed to help, it would violate maritime law, according to cruise ship law expert Jim Walker. Regulation 33 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Chapter V states:
The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance …
Walker says many questions remain unanswered in the wake of this tragedy.
“The families of the young dead fishermen deserve an explanation why their children died at sea in this manner,” he adds.
Princess says it’s looking into the incident.
We’re aware of the allegations that Star Princess supposedly passed by a boat in distress that was carrying three Panamanian fishermen on March 10, 2012. 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.
Princess Cruises is dedicated to the highest standards of seamanship wherever our ships sail, and it is our duty to assist any vessel in distress. We have come to the aid of many people at sea, and we will continue to do so.
I hope there’s a full investigation, both by Princess and by Bermuda, the ship’s flag state. But beyond that, I want to share with you how deeply affected I am by this story.
When I heard about this incident, I imagined what it must have felt like to be adrift in the open Pacific and to see a cruise ship in the distance. And then, to have my hopes dashed as it passed by. It’s just horrible.
If Princess turned a cold shoulder to these fishermen in defiance of maritime law, what message does that send to those of us asking a cruise line to honor its customer service commitments?
Update (8/30): Princess just published the following press release.