In the final chapter of Moby Dick, Ishmael survives to tell the tale as the Pequod‘s lone survivor by clinging to Queequeg’s elaborately carved coffin: “Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirge-like main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last.”
Ishmael’s savior turns out to be the whaleship Rachel, still searching for the lost son of her grief stricken Captain, a search that Ahab had refused to assist just a few days before. Now comes Adrian Vasquez, who has filed a lawsuit in Florida accusing Princess Cruises of negligence. Vasquez survived 28 days adrift in the Pacific on board Fifty Cent, his disabled ten foot fishing vessel. The ordeal included watching helplessly as his two friends and fellow fishermen died of dehydration and heat stroke.
On the sixteenth day, the three men spotted the cruise ship Star Princess, which they then vigorously flagged using a red sweater and orange flotation jackets. Two cruise passengers saw the distressed boat through their birding scopes, and immediately informed a cruise sales representative, who in turn assured them that the ship’s crew and Captain would be notified. However, the ship did not alter course, and made no effort to aid the distressed fishermen.
Article 98 of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea clearly states:
Princess Cruises has subsequently claimed that the captain, was in fact not informed of the existence of the fishing boat:
“The 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. Had the Captain received this information, he would have had the opportunity to respond.”
One of the birders, an American named Judy Meredith, attempted to contact the Coast Guard, but received no response. She later followed up with the cruise line and was told that the ship’s log had indeed recorded contact with nearby fishermen fearful for the safety of their nets. By this account, Star Princess then slightly adjusted her course to avoid the (nonexistent) nets, after which the fishermen waved their shirts in a gesture of gratitude.
Ms. Meredith refused to passively accept such astonishingly inept attempts to rewrite the narrative and will testify in support of the Vasquez lawsuit. Explaining her actions both on board the cruise ship and back on terra firma, she said: “If you are human, you do what you can.”
While meditating upon the oceans of existential and political economic space separating the Star Princess from the Fifty Cent, we cannot help but to speculate whether the three young men on board the Fifty Cent were simply too far down the food chain for the Star Princess crew to perceive, indeed too insignificant to qualify as “persons in distress” worthy of the immediate assistance dictated by international maritime law. Since they were spotted through a passenger’s birding scope, well then perhaps they were just sea birds or other irrelevant beasts?
The two fishermen who died were named Fernando Osario (age 16) and Elvis Oropeza Betancourt. Panama is proceeding with a criminal investigation into the matter. One way or another, Adrian Vasquez will have his chance to tell the tale, and to seek compensation for the needless death of his two friends. If you are human, you do what you can.