20 Apr 2012

Cruise captain not told of castaways - company

9:23 pm on 20 April 2012

An American cruise company says it deeply regrets that one of its ships failed to stop to help a disabled Panamanian fishing boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean.

Two of the three men aboard the boat later died of thirst, the BBC reports.

Princess Cruises said that although passengers on the cruise ship had spotted the castaways and alerted staff, the captain had not been told.

The one surviving fisherman - Adrian Vasquez, 18 - was later rescued after 28 days at sea.

He had reported that - after 16 days adrift - he and his companions saw a cruise ship sailing past, despite desperate attempts to flag it down.

Three birdwatchers on board the cruise ship - the Star Princess - said they had spotted the fishermen waving for help and told ship staff, but had been unable to persuade them to change course.

In a statement, Princess Cruises said a preliminary investigation had found that there appeared to have been a "breakdown in communication" in relaying the passengers' concern.

Captain Edward Perrin and the officer of the watch were not notified.

"Understandably, Captain Perrin is devastated that he is being accused of knowingly turning his back on people in distress," it said.

"Had the captain received this information, he would have had the opportunity to respond."

Princess Cruises added that it understood its responsibility under the law of the sea to help any vessel in distress, and said its ships had been involved in more than 30 rescues over the past decade.

It said the investigation was continuing.

Adrian Vasquez was eventually rescued 1000km off the mainland, near the Galapagos Islands.

He said he survived after his friends died thanks to a sudden rainstorm that replenished his drinking water supplies.

He still felt anger at the ship he saw sail past two weeks before his rescue.

"I said 'God will not forgive them'," he said.

Star Princess made its first visit to New Zealand in December 2003 when it began a series of cruises around New Zealand, Tasmania and the east coast of Australia.