Bird-watching luxury cruise passengers with high power binoculars spotted a fishing boat in distress and tried desperately to alert the captain of the Star Princess, owned by Carnival, of Concordia fame.
But the Princess, with a full complement of 2,500 "newlywed, overfed and nearly dead" well heeled luxury passengers sailed blithefully on, leaving one young man to die that night and another to die five days later.
Judy Meredith, one of the birdwatchers, tried to contact the Coast Guard via emails that she has provided, but the Coast says it didn't get the messages.
"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. For a minute it looked like they were going to turn and come for us., but then they just went on their way," said Adrian in an interview with www.panama-guide.com.
This would have been just another sad story of third world ill-equipped fisherman, but for the fact that 18 year-old Adrian Vasquez managed to live another nine days, when he was rescued.
He tried to tell people about the big white ship that had passed him by nine days earlier, but nobody believed him.
Unfortunately for the Star Princess/Carnival, one of the bird watchers, Judy Meredith of Bend, Ore., was determined to find out what happened to the fishing boat in distress. When she saw the news stories about Adrian's amazing survival after 28 days at sea, she put two and two together.
Meredith also saw a little noticed local story in Panama-Guide.com and contacted the reporter Don Winner.
Winner was skeptical at first. He thought the chances of Meredith's distressed fishing boat and the one that Adrian was on, being one in the same, were astronomical. Meredith sent him pictures of her distressed sighting taken from high powered cameras.
Winner tracked down Adrian and he confirmed that Meredith's pictures were of him waving for help that fateful day.
Oropeces Betancourt, 24, and Fernando Osario, 16, almost certainly died because the captain of the Star Princess, Edward Perrin, failed to stop and save them as legally required by international maritime law.
The first story the cruise line had told Meredith was that, according to the ship's log, the Star Princess was moving through a fishing fleet at the time. Contact was supposedly made with the fishing boat, which asked the large ship to change course to avoid damaging their nets. The waving that the bird watchers saw was the fishermen thanking the ship.
Now, as reported by London papers, Star Princess Captain Edward Perrin is devastated that he is being accused of knowingly turning his back on anyone in distress. "There appeared to be a breakdown in communication," according to the cruise line.
Apparently, the captain never got the information. This is somewhat believable, since it is the explicit and well-known policy of Carnival to keep passengers away from the captain. So who else is responsible?
So, the captain was lying, according to Winner.
It's pretty clear at this point the Captain of the Star Princess lied about his contact with the "Fifty Cent" (the fishing boat) that day. He was not, in fact, "in contact" via radio with a fishing fleet -- because they didn't have a radio. There was no need to maneuver to the West to avoid their fishing nets, because they were not fishing. They were waving their shirts and life preservers up and down, trying to be spotted, asking to be rescued. And, the captain blew them off. He made the fatal assumption that they were "just fishing."
He turned slightly to avoid them, and he went on his merry way. Now, I want to know his name...
Thank You, Judy Meredith: This amazing woman did everything she could think of to try to help these poor people. She notified the ship's captain. She notified the US Coast Guard via email. She followed up with the Princess Cruise Line -- who gave her a "corporate" answer, best suited to protect their bottom line. And then she still kept at it, and contacted me. Very, very well done. This might be the first you've heard of this story, but I doubt it will be the last.