International

Princess Cruises: Captain Didn't Know Distressed Fishermen Sighted

The Star Princess cruise ship leaves Buenos Aires' port in Argentina on Jan. 17. i i

The Star Princess cruise ship leaves Buenos Aires' port in Argentina on Jan. 17. Natacha Pisarenko/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Natacha Pisarenko/AP
The Star Princess cruise ship leaves Buenos Aires' port in Argentina on Jan. 17.

The Star Princess cruise ship leaves Buenos Aires' port in Argentina on Jan. 17.

Natacha Pisarenko/AP

A "breakdown in communications" kept a cruise liner steaming off the coast of Panama from rescuing a group of fishermen in distress, even after passengers aboard the ship tried to report sighting the vessel, Princess Cruises says.

The cruise line says a preliminary investigation of the incident that led to the subsequent deaths of two of the three fishermen confirms that the captain of the luxury ship never got word that the boat had been spotted.

Last month, three passengers who were bird watching with high-powered binoculars and spotting telescopes aboard the Star Princess saw the small boat drifting and the men aboard trying to get their attention.

The passengers said they immediately notified a crew member and asked to get that information to the bridge. A crew member even examined the small boat through a telescope. Despite that, the Star Princess sailed on without offering any help to the men — fishermen who were adrift more than 100 miles from any land, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

More than two weeks later, the boat was found by the Ecuadorian Coast Guard. Two of the men had died from exposure.

In a statement, Princess Cruises says it "deeply regrets" the incident and that it occurred because of a "breakdown in communication."

The Associated Press spoke to the fishing boat's only survivor, 18-year-old Adrian Vasquez. The news agency quoted Vasquez as saying he saw the huge white ship coming toward them.

He waved a red sweater to get their attention, reaching high over his head and dropping it low to his knees. Though he was near death, the skipper of the little panga, Elvis Oropeza Betancourt, 31, joined in, waving an orange life jacket, according to the AP.

"Tio, look what's coming over there," Vasquez recalled saying in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press. "We felt happy, because we thought they were coming to rescue us."

The ship didn't stop, and the fishing boat drifted another two weeks before it was found. By then, Vasquez's two friends had died.

"I said, 'God will not forgive them,'" Vasquez recalled. "Today, I still feel rage when I remember that."

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