April 19, 2012

Carnival Has More Blood On Its Hands

All maritime nations are signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Article 98
Duty to render assistance

1. Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:

(a) to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;
(b) to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him;
(c) after a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
2. Every coastal State shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements cooperate with neighboring States for this purpose.
Few rules are more sacrosanct than these articles of Maritime Law.  The ocean is an unforgiving environment, and men are so small on its surface.  Coming to the aid of a ship in distress is one of the oldest maritime traditions, and it is the first principle taught to any mariner: when someone's in trouble, you stop and help.

Passengers on the Star Princess spotted a small boat adrift on the open ocean on March 10, 2012.
One of the other birders on the Star Princess was Judy Meredith from Bend, Ore. She says, "We all watched him for a bit and thought, 'This guy's in distress. He's trying to get our attention. And he doesn't have a motor on his boat.' We could see that."

Meredith went inside to try to place a call to the ship's bridge, to alert the crew about what they'd seen. The only crew member she could find was with the ship's sales team.

"He called the bridge and I sort of talked through the story," she says. "And I was trying to have a sense or urgency in my voice — and tell  them that the boat was in distress, and they were trying to get our  attention."
A crew member used Gilligan's telescope to look at the drifting boat. Gilligan says, at that point, "We were a bit relieved because he had confirmed that he had seen what we were describing. We expected the ship to turn back or stop or something."
-- National Public Radio
The boat the passengers spotted had set out from Rio Hata, Panama, on February 24, 2012.  The three men aboard had intended to spend a few hours fishing just offshore, in their 10' long skiff.  But their engine failed, and they soon drifted out of sight of land.

The boat had been adrift for sixteen days when it was sighted by passengers on the Star Princess. But the ship never stopped.
"I said, 'God will not forgive them,'" Vasquez told The Associated Press as he recalled the encounter in the waters off South America. "Today, I still feel rage when I remember."
-- The Associated Press
The passengers weren't able to get answers aboard ship about the incident; one of them sent the boat's coordinates to the Coast Guard over the internet, once they realized the ship wasn't going to do anything about it.  Amongst themselves, they discussed the likelihood that the ship had radioed the appropriate authorities.

But at least one of them followed up with the cruise line after her trip:
Meredith says she was told that the Star Princess contacted the boat and "that they were asking the ship to move to the west, because they didn't want their nets to be damaged. And that the ship altered course. And they were waving their shirts because they were thanking the ship."
-- National Public Radio
Unfortunately, that was a complete lie.  The ship never contacted anyone; not the Panamanian government, not the Coast Guard, and certainly not the men aboard a boat that had no radio.
On Thursday, Princess Cruises, based in Santa Clarita, Calif., said a preliminary investigation showed that passengers' reports that they had spotted a boat in distress never made it to Capt. Edward Perrin or the officer on duty.

If it did, the company said, the captain and crew would have altered course to rescue the men, just as the cruise line has done more than 30 times in the last 10 years. The company expressed sympathy for the men and their families.
-- The Associated Press
If his crew didn't tell him about boaters in distress, or even passengers reporting a boat in distress, Captain Perrin has done a piss-poor job of training his crew.  And if Princess Cruise Lines didn't make sure that he had properly trained every single member of his crew, Princess has done a shoddy job of management.  And if the crew decided not to bother passing along the information to the captain, they are guilty of gross negligence resulting in the lingering painful death of two men.

But here's the thing; Princess Cruise Lines is owned by Carnival Corporation, which owns ten other cruise lines, including Costa Cruises.   You may recall the Costa Concordia ran aground a few months ago; not only did it run aground because the captain was showboating, he failed to start evacuating the ship until it was too late to use the life boats safely.  Worse, crew was sending passengers back to their cabins, stating that there was no emergency.

Over a dozen passengers died in their cabins, or in the companionways below decks, as they tried to get out of the sinking ship.

Two ships, two lines, with needless deaths, and one owner in common; Carnival Corporation.
Vasquez recalled seeing the ship — "It was big. It was white." — on the morning of March 10.

Vasquez remembered jumping up and waving the sweater. He raised it over his head, dropped it down to his knees, over and over and over. Though near death, Elvis Oropeza Betancourt, 31, joined in, waving an orange life jacket.

"'Tio, look what's coming over there,'" Vasquez recalled saying.

"We felt happy, because we thought they were coming to rescue us," he said.
-- The Associated Press
The day after the Star Princess passed them by, Elvis Oropeza Betancourt died of thirst.  The three men had been adrift for seventeen days.

Several days later, sixteen year old Fernando Osorio succumbed to thirst.  The eighteen year old Vasquez pushed both of their bodies overboard.  If not for a rain squall, he would have died a few days after that.

For a ship to be so close, for it to be so close that passengers could see a ten foot long boat and discern men waving for help, for the passengers to have done everything that good people should do in this kind of situation, to have this improbable sequence of miracles occur, and then to have the crew turn their backs on their duty is an outrage beyond any tolerance.

I find myself pining for the days when they'd have been strung up from the yardarm.  They'd die an easier death than Oropeza Betancourt or Fernando Osario.

There is a disturbing trend of negligence and incompetence in the cruise industry, and the lackadaisical response from the home office does little to inspire confidence.  From the captain who ran his ship aground and failed to evacuate the ship in a timely manner, to this case were the crew is either not bothering to pass along critical information or the captain is ignoring the crew, it's increasingly apparent that cruise lines are not bothering to train their crews to any kind of reasonable standard.

As someone who has worked in the cruise industry, it's appalling.

How many more people must die unnecessary deaths before Carnival starts cleaning house and taking charge of its affairs?


  1. Watch it, mister! I rely on Carnival's incompetence and disregard for human life to pay my salary!

  2. Don't worry, I'm sure they have enough incompetence and callous disregard for life to see you into your retirement. ;-)