Luxury liner cruises on as stricken sailors perish
Crew on the Star Princess are accused of ignoring pleas to help a fishing boat in trouble nearby. Two fishermen on board later died of thirst. Why do cries for help so often fall on deaf ears?
Far in the distance on an endless ocean swell, a tiny boat bobbed up and down. From the deck of the Star Princess, Judith Meredith could not believe her eyes. When two figures on the tiny vessel began waving for help, she was horrified.
Immediately, the 46-year-old alerted the crew, imploring them to take action. But the luxury cruise ship sailed on.
The vessel Judith had spotted was the fishing boat Fifty Cents, and three young men were on board. For two weeks, they had been drifting in the open ocean, stranded, sunburnt, and living off raw fish.
Within hours of Judith’s sighting, the oldest of the boys was dead. Five days later, blistering heat and dehydration finished off a second. Survivor Adrian Vasquez had been at sea for 26 days when he was rescued. The 17-year-old had been forced to push the bloated corpses of his friends into the ocean.
An investigation is ongoing, and the possibility that the Star Princess left two young men to die has caused outrage.
But this would hardly be the first time humans have ignored those in need. In October, two-year-old Xiao Yueyue died after being hit by a car in Guangdong, China. No fewer than 18 passers-by ignored her as she lay bleeding in the road. Last March, two US Apple employees ignored screams, grunts and cries for help coming from a nearby store. Later, it emerged that they had been listening to the brutal murder of 30-year-old Jayna Murray.
This is not just a recent phenomenon. In 1963, several witnesses failed to act when New Yorker Kitty Genovese was brutally stabbed to death. The case inspired the term ‘bystander effect’ – where large groups fail to help someone in trouble, as individuals rely on others to step in.
Scientific studies have cast revealing light on the psychology of such situations. In one, students were sent to deliver a lecture in a far-off college building. Some were told they had plenty of time to get there, others that they were already late. On the way, each encountered an apparently injured man. Of the early students, 65% stopped, but only ten per cent of those who were rushing helped. To be a good Samaritan, it seems, most of us need convenient circumstances as well as a virtuous character.
Walk on by
Should we condemn those who do not intervene? Some say we should. When someone is in danger everyone has a duty to step in if they can. There are philosophers who argue that failing to save someone’s life is as bad, in moral terms, as killing them yourself.
Other thinkers disagree. Though it should be applauded, they say, lending a hand to others is not a duty. Anyone who goes out of their way to harm others should be harshly judged – and punished. But no-one should be condemned for doing nothing.
- How far would you go to save a life?
- I am drowning in a lake, and you stand on the bank and watch. Are you guilty of murder?
- Imagine you are Judith Meredith, and have just discovered that two of the youths you saw died aboard their boat. Write a short paragraph explaining your feelings.
- In class, read the story of the Good Samaritan. Act out a trial for the three characters who encountered the wounded man. What questions do you ask the passers-by? What are their reasons for ignoring his plight?
Some People Say...
“If you let someone die, you have their blood on their hands.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Does this have an effect on a bigger scale?
- History is full of examples of people that didn’t intervene. Some historical atrocities demonstrate the phenomenon. When millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust, for example, only a small minority of the people of Germany actively intervened to stop what was going on.
- I’d definitely help other people in trouble!
- Not so fast. Studies suggest that most people wildly overestimate their ability to step in when something is wrong. In one survey, half of respondents said they would speak up if someone they were talking to made a sexist remark. When given the opportunity, only 16% did so. And though 68% said they would challenge sexist questions in a job interview, a total of zero lived up to those claims when put on the spot.
- Star Princess
- Judith Meredith was on a birdwatching holiday on the cruise ship Star Princess when she caught sight of Fifty Cents. The luxury cruise liner is owned by Carnival Corporation – the same firm that owns the Costa Concordia, which sunk off the coast of Italy this year.
- Kitty Genovese
- New York bar manager Genovese was murdered in 1964, after being stabbed several times when returning to her flat. Several witnesses in her neighbourhood saw the attack and did not alert police. The event provoked outrage across America, but later evidence suggested that reports of the murder – that claimed 38 witnesses had seen the crime – had been exaggerated.
- Good Samaritan
- The biblical parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a Samaritan – part of a marginalised group in Jesus’ society – who helps a wounded man by the side of the road. Before Samaritan comes to his aid, two well-thought of members of society ignore the injured person. The story illustrates the importance of acting when others are in need, but also shows all individuals are capable of good – regardless of how society sees them.