"I can't believe I laughed at that man drowning."

Chills went down Venezia Hebecker's spine instantly as she overheard these words, uttered by a stranger as they strolled by nonchalantly, chuckling away with their friends.

The 19-year-old was sunbathing while her father Marino enjoyed a swim during a cruise excursion at the idyllic Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. Venezia knew she had to check on her dad quickly — a few years back he'd suffered an episode while snorkelling and had panicked and lost his breath.

As she approached the scene, her worst fears were quickly realised.


"As I was walking by the rocks, where the lifeguard was located, I heard a lady calling my name," Venezia told news.com.au. "I turned around and saw her running towards me with my dad's snorkels in her hands.

"I automatically thought of the worst ... I started bawling my eyes out because I totally thought he was gone. She had reassured me that he was okay but I needed to go to medical as soon as possible because my dad ... was not breathing."

Just a couple of hours ago they had been soaking up paradise, but as Venezia said: "Little did we know it was going to turn into a nightmare."

The Hebecker family are disappointed at what they allege is a lack of compassion from the company, Norwegian Cruise Lines.
The Hebecker family are disappointed at what they allege is a lack of compassion from the company, Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Hebecker, 69, is a strong swimmer, but had found himself in trouble in a strong current and lifeguards from the Norwegian Escape ignored his desperate pleas for help, the family claims.

"He remembers waving at the lifeguard, who ignored him, then screaming for the lifeguard, who ignored him again. He was screaming for his life and everyone thought it was a joke. He was 6m deep and 60m out in the water, when two kids had found him and tried bringing him back," Venezia said.

"(Eventually) two men brought him out of the water when they called for medical. No lifeguard had helped him through it all. Isn't that their job?"

Hebecker doesn't recall all of the incident that occurred last month, as he was battling for his life but said of the rescue effort: "All of a sudden I lost all breathing capabilities. Luckily two kids around 7-years-old came to help. They helped for a maximum of five seconds. I continued to scream while kicking underwater to stay afloat.

"I noticed a man 15m away and screamed at him but he looked at me like I was joking. In slow motion I saw a man jump into the water and swim for me. I was hanging on for life."

Venezia said it was horrifying to watch her father being treated in the hospital and she was shocked at how little the cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Lines, seemed to care about their ordeal.

"When arriving to medical, I saw my dad hooked up to many different types of machines. I (tried) to hold his hand, when the doctor told me he was in critical condition therefore I was not able to touch him for his own safety.

"During this time, my mum was nowhere to be found, therefore I was alone. I ran back to the entrance/security of the island, crying and asking for the man to call the ship (Norwegian Escape) in order to locate my mum.

"I had waited about 10 minutes until I gave up and ran back to find her on my own. I had told multiple Norwegian employees that my dad was in medical and I needed help finding my mum, although no one seemed to care."

The family claim Hebecker was handed paperwork to sign with no explanation, while in a critical condition.

The family, from Ontario in Canada, then experienced what they allege was a lack of compassion from the company.

"There was no type of sympathy for my dad shown by any crew member," Venezia said. "Through it all, no crew member had came to the stateroom or even called to see how he was doing. Absolutely nothing was done for him through it all even considering this all happened on their island under their 'lifeguards' supervision.

" ... When I asked to speak to a manager she had told me he was not available. When I came back in the morning, she had told me he was still unavailable. He's on the ship somewhere isn't he? My dad almost drowned under their supervision, how could I not speak to a manager?

"My dad is the strongest man I know, and will fight through any sort of pain. Seeing him not being able to walk on his own and being so weak was the absolute worst feeling I have ever felt."

Hebecker also received a medical bill of US$5189 ($7000), sparking his daughter to set up a GoFundMe page to help pay the fees.

Venezia has a final message for the cruise company: "I definitely think that they should be ashamed of themselves. I could have lost my father if it weren't for the help of those kids as well as the man, not the lifeguard.

"This isn't about the money, but how the cruise handled everything. I will not stop until justice has been made for my father."