Bermuda-registered ship allegedly ignored fishing boat in distress

  • Cruise ship Star Princess (left)

    Cruise ship Star Princess (left)

Local authorities have stepped in to probe a fatal accident at sea where a Bermuda-registered cruise ship was accused of ignoring a fishing boat in distress.

Two Panamanian fishermen died in the incident off the Pacific coast of Panama last month. It has been alleged that passengers on the Star Princess cruise ship alerted staff to the disabled boat, but the cruise ship failed to stop to help.

In a statement in the House of Assembly yesterday, Deputy Premier and Minister of Transport Derrick Burgess revealed that authorities here have launched an independent investigation.

“On Wednesday afternoon, April 17, 2012, the Department of Maritime Administration received information of an alleged incident involving the Bermuda-registered cruise ship Star Princess on or about March 10, 2012,” he said.

“It is alleged a fishing vessel was observed by bird watchers on board the ship to possibly be in trouble. They had the benefit of high-power optics and thought they could see people on board waving for help.

“They notified the bridge team on ship, who may have downplayed what was seen. Approximately two weeks later around March 24, it [was] reported that the fishing vessel was in trouble and only one of the three crew was rescued.”

Mr Burgess said after receiving that information, the Department of Maritime Operations contacted Princess Cruises, the operators of the Star Princess, to inquire about the alleged incident.

Mr Burgess said the initial reply was that the company had just been informed about the matter, and was investigating.

“We have since received information from a senior Princess official who is their lead and primary contact on the investigation,” explained Mr Burgess.

That official, who he did not name, provided a statement saying: “We are aware of these apparent allegations and our company council and our attorneys are conducting an internal investigation to find out the facts in this case.”

Mr Burgess told the House of Assembly: “As the duty to assist ships in distress is explicitly defined in the Merchant Shipping Act 2002, including the failure to do so as an offence, we have met with our counsel from the Attorney General’s Chambers and fully apprised him of the situation. We have also met with the Bermuda Police Service and they have confirmed their commitment to assist as required.”

He added: “The gravity of this allegation requires Bermuda to take the appropriate steps to ensure due diligence is exercised in determining the legitimacy of the allegations. Therefore the Department of Maritime Administration has determined that it is [in] the best interest of all concerned to commence its independent investigation. We will keep this Honourable House and members fully apprised on this very important matter and provide additional information as it becomes available.”

A Government spokesman later provided a statement from Princess Cruises, which the company issued on Thursday.

It said: “Princess Cruises deeply regrets that two Panamanian men perished at sea after their boat became disabled in early March. Since we became aware of this incident, we have been investigating circumstances surrounding the claim that [the] Star Princess failed to come to the aid of the disabled boat, after a crew member was alerted by passengers.

“The preliminary results of our investigation have shown that there appeared to be a breakdown in communication in relaying the passenger’s concern. Neither Captain [Edward] Perrin nor the officer of the watch were notified. Understandably, Captain Perrin is devastated that he is being accused of knowingly turning his back on people in distress. Had the captain received this information, he would have had the opportunity to respond.

“We all understand that it is our responsibility and also the law of the sea to provide assistance to any vessel in distress, and it is not an uncommon occurrence for our ships to be involved in a rescue at sea. In fact, we have done so more than 30 times in the last ten years. We deeply regret this incident and are continuing our investigation to fully understand the circumstances.”

According to a report yesterday from the Associated Press, the three Panamanian fishermen got into trouble when the motor on their small boat broke down after a night at sea. They reportedly drifted for 16 days until they saw the cruise ship, but it didn’t stop. The fishing boat then drifted for another two weeks before it was found by an Ecuadorean fishing vessel near the Galapagos Islands.

Crew members Elvis Oropeza Betancourt, 31 and Fernando Osario, 16, died, but 18-year-old Adrian Vasquez survived.

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