Carnival Cruise Ship Assists a Distressed Boat in the Florida Straits

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Carnival Celebration was able to celebrate swift, humane action that undoubtedly saved lives on Saturday, February 24 when the ship rescued an overcrowded refugee boat in the Florida Straits. The cruise ship provided supplies to the small craft and notified authorities, which were dispatched to take in the stranded group.

Carnival Celebration Facilitates Refugee Rescue

During the last day at sea on her most recent sailing, a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise that departed Miami, Florida on Sunday, February 18, Carnival Celebration spotted a small craft north of Cuba in the Florida Straits, overloaded with occupants and signaling for help.

The cruise ship immediately responded, pausing to assess the situation and offering assistance. Authorities were quickly notified and sent appropriate rescue craft to lend aid to the 20 people in the small boat.

“Carnival Celebration’s team helped a group of 20 people in distress on a boat in the Florida Straits on Saturday,” a statement from Carnival Cruise Line read. “The ship’s team gave them food and water and called the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West, which deployed a cutter and rescued the stranded group.”

The exact position of the incident has not been released, but refugee encounters are not uncommon in the Florida straits as migrants from Cuba seek refuge in the United States. U.S. Coast Guard boats routinely patrol the waters and are able to respond to distress calls, illegal crossings, suspected drug trafficking, and more.

In the case of refugees, they are typically given medical care, food, and water, as well as kept safe until they can be turned over to the proper authorities. Except for extreme circumstances, they are returned to their country of origin.

At the time of the rescue operation, Carnival Celebration was on her final full day of the 7-night cruise, a day at sea that followed calls to Cozumel, Roatan, and Costa Maya. The 183,521-gross-ton, Excel-class ship is homeported from Miami year-round, offering Eastern, Western, and Southern Caribbean itineraries, depending on the sailing date.

There was no delay to the ship’s return to Miami, nor was her next itinerary impacted by her compassionate action.

Another Carnival Celebration Rescue

This is not Carnival Celebration‘s first refugee rescue. The ship encountered her first group of refugees aboard a small raft on January 2, 2023, less than two months after she welcomed her first guests aboard. That incident occurred in the same general area as this most recent rescue.

In March 2023, Carnival Celebration offered assistance to another small boat overcrowded with at least a dozen refugees. During that incident, the individuals in the small craft accepted supplies but declined to be taken aboard the cruise ship. That encounter was also during a Western Caribbean cruise, but happened northeast of Cozumel.

Carnival Celebration Rescue
Video Footage Credit: King Brown

While all vessels are obligated to render aid whenever possible, it is not mandatory that individuals accept that aid, particularly if they are in good health and not in immediate danger.

During each encounter with refugee craft, the cruise ship would contact both local maritime authorities as well as the cruise line’s own shoreside team to report the incident. Further action may be undertaken by the authorities as needed.

This time of year – as winter storms are dwindling but hurricane season has not yet begun – is popular for similar refugee encounters in the Caribbean. The close proximity of many islands and popular shipping and cruise travel routes make it easier for desperate individuals to take the monumental risks of setting off in less-than-seaworthy craft.

All cruise ships remain alert at all hours to the possibility of sighting small craft, and stand ready to offer assistance and rescue whenever necessary.

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