Ship boat

Carnival cruise ship rescues Cuban migrants stranded at sea

Video captured the impromptu encounter Friday as the Carnival Cruise liner, Carnival Paradise, sailed from Tampa, Florida to Cozumel, Mexico.

“They didn’t have paddles,” said passenger Cintia Zingoni, who filmed the video. “It wasn’t really a boat. It was a piece of furniture, maybe a wardrobe and they made it like a boat.”

Zingoni, a real estate agent from Orlando, Florida, was on the boat with his family and friends when they witnessed the event.

His video shows what appears to be a small piece of fabric the migrants used as a sail and polystyrene attached to the sides of their ship for flotation. Zingoni said it also appeared that the migrants were using a pot lid to paddle.

The migrants were welcomed aboard the ship where they received a medical screening, food and clothing, according to Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Matt Lupoli. When the boat reached Cozumel, they were handed over to Mexican officials, he said.

According to Zingoni, the ship’s captain told the passengers that the migrants were dehydrated but were fine.

“I felt sad. Everyone on the boat was dancing and having fun and they were dying,” Zingoni said. “It was almost a suicide mission to go inside that piece of wood.”

Another passenger, Lee Smith, said the weather that evening got worse.

“As we headed into Mexico, we were going fast to make up for lost time, but there was a thunderstorm and lightning behind us in the area where we had started,” he said. “It’s a good thing we got the people back from the raft.”
A screenshot of the video shows the migrants & #39;  makeshift raft.
The dramatic rescue comes as US officials report a rise in the number of Cubans trying to leave the communist-ruled island, where ruling officials blame US sanctions for a cratering economy.

Cubans who arrive in the United States and seek asylum can generally obtain permanent residence under a special status granted by the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1962. Cubans picked up at sea by the United States Coast Guard are generally returned to the island.

As Cuba faces growing blackouts and food shortages, record numbers of Cubans have left the island either by crossing the southern border with Mexico into the United States or by setting sail in small boats and rafts that U.S. officials say are often pushed of course by ocean currents.

According to US Customs and Border Protection, more than 175,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States from Mexico since July of last year. During the same period, more than 4,500 Cubans intercepted at sea were returned to Cuba, the Coast Guard said in a statement Tuesday.

It is not uncommon for cruise ships to participate in maritime rescues. On June 4, the Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship rescued 16 Cubans stranded about 60 nautical miles from Key West, Florida.