Cruise line says ship didn't pass stranded boat

Associated Press Modified: August 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm •  Published: August 31, 2012

Six months after two Panamanian fishermen died at sea, an American cruise line says it has new information that contradicts claims that one of its ships ignored the drifting fishing boat's distress signals.

Princess Cruises said in a statement Thursday that it compared a video of the fishermen's boat when it was found off Ecuador with a photograph of the boat taken by birdwatchers aboard the Star Princess off Panama last March and concluded they were not the same.

The video, taken by someone on the fishing boat that rescued survivor Adrian Vasquez, clearly shows the name "Fifty Cent" painted in big red letters on the bow, while the photo of the boat taken from the deck of the Star Princess does not.

The birdwatchers notified the ship's crew that men on the small boat were signaling and appeared to be in trouble, but the ship never changed course to help them. Princess, based in Santa Clarita, Calif., has said that word never reached the captain, and the crew on the bridge saw no signs of distress.

Vasquez and the families of the two fishermen who died are suing the cruise line.

The 18-year-old Vazquez and his companions, Fernando Osorio, 16, and Elvis Oropeza, 31, set off for a night of fishing on Feb. 24 from Rio Hato, a small fishing and farming town on the Pacific coast of Panama that was once the site of a U.S. Army base guarding the Panama Canal. Their motor broke down on the way back and the men drifted at sea for weeks. Osorio and Oropeza died. Vazquez was rescued by a fishing boat March 22 near Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, more than 600 miles from where they had set out.

Vasquez' attorney, attorney Edna Ramos, said they have proof the boat seen by the birdwatchers was the same boat, including the fact that the ship passengers described a blue sailcloth or tarp aboard the vessel, of the same kind his boat had.

"You can see photos in which the same characteristics are seen ... you can see the blue tarp, which had fallen down by the time of the rescue, and the poles that held it up," she said.