Cruise Ship Rescues 68 Refugees in Atlantic, Five Dead

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Oceania Cruises’ Insignia conducted a rescue operation off Spain’s Canary Islands on June 19, saving 68 migrants from a distressed dinghy. The rescue unfolded after the oil tanker Philipp Oldendorff initially spotted the refugees’ wooden boat adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 440 miles south of Tenerife.

Sailing from nearby Mindelo, Cape Verde, on a 22-night segment from Cape Town, South Africa, to Lisbon, Portugal, during its 180-day Around the World Cruise, the 670-passenger Insignia was redirected to the scene by the Spanish maritime safety and rescue agency, Salvamento Maritimo, in response to the emergency. 

Insignia Cruise Ship
Insignia Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Claudine Van Massenhove)

A spokesperson from Oceania Cruises confirmed the rescue, stating, “Safety of the life at sea is of paramount importance for all seafarers. We can confirm that Insignia rescued 68 people from a vessel in distress between Cape Verde and Tenefrife and brought them onboard for medical assistance and provided food, drinks, clothing, and a safe place to rest.”

Unfortunately, upon arrival of the rescue, Insignia crew discovered the dinghy also contained five deceased individuals. They managed to recover three bodies, but adverse weather conditions prevented the retrieval of the remaining two. 

Weather reports indicated wind gusts in the area between 20 and 30 miles per hour with occasional gusts of over 40 miles per hour. Insignia crew left a reflector in the vessel for future retrieval attempts.

Salvamento Maritimo expressed gratitude to Insignia and said Captain Maroje Brajcic and crew would receive distinction for their heroic efforts from the Maritime Captain of Tenerife, Jose Antonio Conde, and the head of the Maritime Rescue Center of Tenerife, Maria Dolores Septien.

The rescued individuals are expected to disembark in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, on June 21, as the ship arrives for its scheduled call. 

The Salvamento Maritimo’s SAR ship, Guardamar Urania, will meet the refugees to provide support and assistance, and will conduct retrieval efforts of the remaining bodies left at sea.

Upholding Maritime Duty

The 30,277-gross-ton Insignia, the first ship in the Oceania Cruises fleet, owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, followed traditional maritime law when it came to the rescue in the Atlantic.

Under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) a ship’s captain “shall render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost; the master must proceed with all speed to the assistance of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance.”

Carnival Paradise Rescue
Carnival Paradise Rescue (Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line)

Just last month, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Radiance interrupted a 3-night Baja Mexico cruise to rescue 25 refugees stranded in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico, including three children. The swift efforts did not affect the ship’s itinerary. 

Earlier this year, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas rescued 14 Cuban refugees stranded at sea for 8 days near Honduras. The ship transported the rescued to Roatan, where it was scheduled to call, also not disrupting its original itinerary.

Caminando Fronteras, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and defend refugees, reports that more than 5,000 refugees have died trying to reach Spain this year. The number represents a sharp increase as it closes into 2023’s total of 6,600.

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