HAMILTON, Bermuda, April 22, CMC – Authorities here have launched an independent investigation into a fatal accident at sea after a Bermuda-registered cruise ship was accused of ignoring a fishing boat in distress off the coast of Panama last month.
Two Panamanian fishermen, one a teenager, died in the incident.
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 offer assistance.
The liner’s captain has said he was unaware of any emergency.
Reports say 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 did not stop. The fishing boat then drifted for another fortnight 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.
Bermuda’s Deputy Premier and Transport Minister Derrick Burgess told lawmakers on Friday that authorities here have launched their own 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 in the House of Assembly.
“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.”
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.
Burgess said the initial reply was that the company had just been told about the matter and was investigating.
Burgess told the House: “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.”
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 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 passengers’ 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.”