FRIDAY, APRIL 20: The Bermuda Government has launched an investigation into whether or not the Star Princess cruise ship failed in its duty to assist a fishing boat in distress. The incident ended in tragedy when two men subsequently died.
On March 10, it is alleged that birdwatchers, using powerful binoculars aboard the Bermuda-registered Star Princess observed a fishing vessel in trouble in the Pacific Ocean near the Galapagos Islands.
Approximately two weeks later the fishing boat was spotted again and with two of three crew members now dead from exposure.
Many media outlets are reporting that one of the bird watchers, Jeff Gilligan, observed one of the fishing vessel’s crew members waving a cloth over his head in an attempt to contact the ship. Mr Gilligan alerted a crew member of the Star Princess.
Mr Gilligan reported he even gave a Star Princess crew member his binoculars so he could see the vessel for himself.
The ship kept going and Mr Gilliagn told Associated Press: “It was very disturbing… whether something else could have been done, that’s a bit frustrating to think about.”
AP reports the surviving fishing boat crew member, Adrian Vazquez, 18, waved his red sweater over his head to gain attention of the Star Princess.
Mr Vasquez told AP: “We felt happy because we thought they were coming to rescue us.”
Mr Vasquez said after the Star Princess kept going he said to his shipmates “God will not forgive them. Today, I still feel rage when I remember that.”
Mr Gilligan provided AP with the photo of the boat he took.
The Bermuda Government’s Department of Maritime Administration received information about the alleged incident on April 17.
Star Princess’ official press statement said the ship’s captain, Edward Perrin, had never been notified about the vessel and has “deep regrets” that two men died.
Princess cruises said there was a “breakdown in communication in relaying the passenger’s concern”.
Derrick Burgess, Deputy Premier of Bermuda and Minister of Transport, said today: “As the duty to assist ships, etc, 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 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.
“The gravity of the situation requires Bermuda to take 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 the best interest of all concerned to commence its independent investigation.”
“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 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.”
Full statement from Minister Derrick Burgess
On Wednesday afternoon April 17th 2012 the Department of Maritime Administration received information of an alleged incident involving the Bermuda registered cruise ship “Star Princess” on or about March 10th, 2012.
It is alleged a fishing vessel was observed by bird watchers onboard the ship to possibly be in trouble (they had the benefit of high power optics and thought they could see people onboard waving for help). They notified the bridge team on ship, who may have downplayed what was seen. Approximately two weeks later around March 24th it has been reported that the fishing vessel was in trouble and only 1 of the 3 crew was rescued.
Following receipt of the above information DMA contacted the operators of Star Princess (Princess Cruises) to inquire about the alleged incident. Princess initial reply was that they have just been informed about an incident that may have involved their ship over a month ago and they are investigating the matter. We have since received information from a Senior Princess official who is their lead and primary contact on the investigation, and he provided the following statement:
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. We have a press statement, which I will ask be forwarded to you. Obviously we will keep you in the loop as we learn more.
As the “Duty to assist ships, etc. 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 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.
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 the best interest of all concerned to commence its independent investigation.
We will keep this Honorable House and members fully apprised on this very important matter and provide additional information as it becomes available.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker,