A Panamanian fisherman who survived 28 days adrift in the Pacific and watched two companions die is suing the owners of a cruise ship that sailed past.
Adrian Vasquez has filed a lawsuit in Florida alleging negligence by Princess Cruises, his lawyer said. The American cruise company has said it deeply regrets that one of its ships sailed past the dying men. Passengers said they spotted the castaways and alerted staff, but the firm said the captain was not informed.
Mr Vasquez’s lawyer, Edna Ramos, said the lawsuit includes testimony from two cruise ship passengers who said they saw the boat and reported it to a member of staff.
One passenger, Judy Meredith, earlier told reporters she had informed a sales representative about the boat and had shown him it through a spotting telescope. She said she had been assured the information had been passed on to the crew.
Mr Vasquez and his friends set out in their three-metre-long open fishing boat the Fifty Cents from the port of Rio Hato in February, and were on their way back after their catch when the engine failed.
After 16 days adrift, he says, they saw a cruise ship sailing past, and had made attempts to flag it down with a red sweater.
“We felt happy, because we thought they were coming to rescue us,” he said. Mr Vasquez was eventually rescued 1,000km (620 miles) off the mainland, near the Galapagos Islands. His friends had already died of thirst. He said he survived thanks to a sudden rainstorm that replenished his drinking water supplies.
Oropeces Betancourt, the oldest at 24, stopped eating and drinking after two weeks and died on March 10. Three days later, his body began to decompose and Vasquez threw it over the side. The youngest of the three, 16-year-old Fernando Osorio, died on March 15, also apparently of dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke. After three days, Vasquez pushed his second friend’s body into the ocean.
Princess Cruises said there appeared to have been a “breakdown in communication”. It said the captain – Edward Perrin – and the officer of the watch were not notified.
Princess Cruises said 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.
Duty to render assistance
The duty to render assistance, under article 98, of the UN convention of the law of the sea (UNCLOS), is a well-established principle of international maritime law. It states that, insofar as it can be done without serious danger to the ship, the master is required “to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost; to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, insofar as such action may reasonably be expected of him”. Source: UN/IMO
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