THE CHAIN LOCKER
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Everyone will remember the story of Adrian Vasquez (click "Fishermen Ignored" and "Star Princess" in the Categories column on the right side of the page for earlier stories & links). 

The 18-year-old Panamanian and two friends, 16 & 24, were out fishing, trying to make some money after Adrian lost his job at a hotel. The motor in their small fishing boat died, and the trio drifted offshore. After more than two weeks, with one of the boys on the point of death, they saw the 109,000GT cruise ship STAR PRINCESS steaming by and desperately began to wave their shirts to indicate their distress. But STAR PRINCESS never acknowledged their presence. 16-year-old Fernando Osario died that night, and 24-year-old Oropeces Betancourt died five days later. (I've seen this order reversed in some stories - however it happened, they were both dead shortly after being passed by the cruise ship.)

Two weeks after sighting the cruise ship the lone survivor, Adrian, was picked up near the Galapagos Islands by Ecuadorian Coast Guard. He was 1000Km from the coast they had set out from a month before.


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AIS track of STAR PRINCESS and track of FIFTY CENTS as it drifted
The green line in the image at left is the track of  STAR PRINCESS; the ragged red line is the track followed by the three young men as they drifted westward in their disabled boat FIFTY CENTS. 

As you can see, it was an amazing coincidence that FIFTY CENTS passed close to the cruise ship at all, in that vast expanse - and it must have been a crushing disappointment to have been ignored and left to die. 

Princess Cruises contends that they weren't ignored on purpose, and it seems very likely to me that that they were not - no matter how hard I try, I can't imagine a bridge team failing to stop for a vessel in distress! The breakdown seems to have been in communication between the crew member to whom the passengers reported - now identified as a sales agent for the cruise line - and the bridge.

The Captain claims that neither he nor his bridge team were actually notified, although I did read one story in which a passenger claimed that the crew member had communicated with someone via walkie-talkie, and had been told that he was talking to the bridge. But apparently the message never got there. 

I also wonder what the lookouts were doing! I've never been on a ship's bridge where something like that wouldn't have been reported and evaluated. Of course, on many ships it's common practice for no lookouts to be posted during daylight hours, and that may have been the case here.

The sole survivor Adrian has filed suit in a Florida court.  This story from International Business Times brings us up to date on the latest developments. 

Another article from World News Australia shows the international interest in the story, and focuses on the witnesses' accounts - play the video on that page for interviews with them. The witnesses are insistent that they informed a member of the crew; they are distressed that the information they provided wasn't acted on, and sound as though they will be testifying against the cruise line in the trial. 

Finally, in this blog post from Cruise Law News, a lawyer experienced in admiralty law predicts that Princess will try to get the case dismissed rather than let a Florida jury hear the emotional testimony in the case. He points out the high international interest in the case and the damage it causes to cruising's image, coming right after the COSTA CONCORDIA incident.

Whatever happens next, I find myself firmly in Adrian Vasquez' corner. To imagine apparent salvation sailing serenely out of sight reminds me of a horrific image that sometimes haunted me at sea - the image of a man fallen overboard, watching his ship sail off without him. It's the kind of thought that gives a seaman nightmares, and Vasquez and his friends had to experience it. So as far as I'm concerned, he deserves anything he can get in the way of settlement - and the cruise industry has another safety issue to address.

Do you know the cruise industry? Can you give any insight into how such a thing could happen? Please comment and tell us what you think!