Tragedy at sea witnessed by three Costa Rican-bound birders

Passengers on a Costa Rican-bound cruise ship sighted what appeared to be a drifting fishing boat in waters about 100 miles south of Panamá, and were surprised to see the ship continue even after they informed a uniformed crew member of the situation. The ship is the Star Princess operated by Carnival cruise lines.

Jeff Gilligan and Judy Meredith of Portland, Oregon and Jim Dowdell from Ireland were on a cruise from Rio de Janiero to San Francisco in order to study seabirds, mostly in the southern hemisphere around the Falkland Islands and off Chile and Perú where there is a greater variety of albatross and petrels than can be seen elsewhere. They continued observations March 10 between Manta, Ecuador, and Puntarenas.

The birdwatchers mentioned the situation to an A.M. Costa Rica reporter while onshore the next day. Other than an attempt to email the U.S. Coast Guard, there seemed little way to inform potential rescuers since the ship was in international waters. The morning high tide on March 11 was at 4:47 a.m, and the ship docked during the night at the public pier.

The reporter noted a BBC news story about a Panamanian fisherman named Adrian Vázquez rescued near the Galapagos islands after nearly a month at sea and informed Gilligan, who was able to corroborate from photos that it seemed to be the same boat and person. The birders use high-power telephoto lenses to document unusual bird records. Between the time of the apparent sighting off Panamá and Vázquez’s rescue, two companions had died of dehydration. Vázquez survived only due to a timely rain shower.

Carnival has responded to the accusations in the international media with a press release stating that “[t]he 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.”

Maritime law requires ships to provide assistance to other vessels in need.

Gilligan insists that the crew member was in uniform and had a radio, and looked through their telescopes at the boat in question.

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