Princess Cruises to Investigate Why Captain Ignored Distress Call

PHOTO: Jeff Gilligan of Portland captured this photo of a small fishing boat that appeared to be in distress 130 miles off the coast of Costa Rica.
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Princess Cruises is conducting an internal investigation after the captain of one of its ships reportedly ignored a passenger's report of a distress signal and continued on course, rather than coming to the rescue of a stranded Panamanian fishing vessel.

Two of the fishing boat's three crew members later died of dehydration, one day after the encounter with the cruise ship.

Adrian "Santi" Vasquez, 18, set out on a fishing trip Feb. 24, 2012, with two 16-year-old friends, Oropeces Betancourt and Fernando Osario. The trip turned deadly when the trio discovered that the outboard motor on their small fishing vessel, "The Fifty Cent," would not start, leaving them stranded in the middle of the ocean. The three Panamanian fishermen drifted at sea for more than two weeks, hungry, hot, and dehydrated, before they spotted the Star Princess cruise ship and started desperately signaling for a rescue.

"It was a really big, white ship. I was waving a red T-shirt, and Fernando was waving a bright orange life jacket over his head, Vasquez, the crew's sole survivor, said in an interview with panama-guide.com. "For a minute it looked like they were going to turn to come for us, but then they just went on their way."

Meanwhile, Judy Meredith of Bend, Ore., and Jeff Gilligan of Portland, Ore., were bird watching on the deck of the Star Princess with Jim Dowdall of Dublin, Ireland, when they spotted the Fifty Cent far off the ship's starboard side.

Equipped for bird watching, the group was armed with high-power binoculars, or spotting scopes, and cameras fitted with telephoto lenses, all of which gave them a good view of the fishing boat in the distance.

"I saw a young man in the front of the boat waving his shirt up and down. Big motions, up over his head and down to the floor, waving it vigorously. Frantically I would say," Meredith told "Good Morning America."

"That signal told me that they were in trouble. They were trying everything they could to get our attention."

Meredith said they told someone at a desk they wanted to call the bridge and be sure they checked on the boat. She said the man at the desk made a call, then came back out and looked through their spotting scopes at the boat, then went back inside.

"Nothing happened," she told "GMA." "The ship didn't slow down. It didn't seem to change course. And so I went back in and asked what the captain was going to do. And he said he didn't know."

Not pacified by the encounter, Meredith returned to her room where she wrote down the ship's coordinates and sent an email to U.S Coast Guard in hopes that they would take action.

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