A passing Carnival cruise ship has rescued 24 Cubans stranded in a wooden boat for five days, part of an apparently increasing number of would-be migrants setting off from the southeastern end of Cuba and trying to reach the United States.
The 2,000-passenger Carnival Paradise picked up the 23 men and one woman on Wednesday and put them ashore at its next scheduled stop in the Cayman Islands, a British territory about 125 miles south of Cuba.
“In keeping with a longtime tradition of aiding mariners in distress, Carnival Paradise altered its course and brought on board 24 individuals from Cuba who were provided with food, water, fresh clothing and accommodations and evaluated by the ship’s medical team,” the cruise company said in a statement.
Cayman authorities have reported spotting a growing number of Cuban migrant vessels in territorial waters in the past year, but provided no numbers. Cubans aboard seaworthy ships are allowed to continue, but others are forced ashore and usually returned to Cuba.
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Most of the Cuban boats leave from the southeastern end of the communist-ruled island and try to ride the prevailing currents and winds to Central America. From there, the migrants can head by land to the Mexican border with the United States.
Carnival said its ship left Tampa and was en route to the Cayman Islands, on the first day of a routine five-day Caribbean cruise, when it stopped to assist the smaller vessel. The Cayman27 news service reported the Cubans were put ashore in Grand Cayman and were being processed in a migrant detention center.
A French passenger aboard the Carnival Paradise, Matthew Sudders, told CNN iReport that the ship’s PA system at one point announced that the captain had spotted a small boat that appeared to be in distress and was going to its help.
“The people in it were yelling in Spanish. One of them appeared to be unwell in the bottom of the boat. We could see that there was water in the bottom of the boat and although it had an engine, it was not running,” Sudders was quoted as saying.
The ship’s crew lowered a platform and threw life jackets to the Cubans, then took them onboard. A ship’s announcement later indicated the boat had been stranded for five days, said Sudders, who shot several photos of the rescue.
“There was a huge cheer for the people as they came aboard,” Sudders told CNN iReport.
But some of the people next to him watching the rescue from a deck on the ship mentioned the Oscar-nominated film Captain Phillips, about the 2009 hijacking of a U.S. freighter by Somali pirates, and wondered if the new passengers were not a risk, Sudders added.
Cruise ships sailing in the Caribbean have rescued many other groups of Cuban and other migrants in the past. Just last year, two cruise ships picked up 21 people near Key West and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas rescued 23 Cubans near Jamaica and took them to Mexico.