Cruise Ship Rescues Refugees in Rough Seas During Hurricane

The storm-related delay for Rotterdam has led to a dramatic rescue and 14 lives saved while the ship spent an extra day at sea.

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Holland America Line’s new ship Rotterdam performed a stunning rescue on Wednesday evening, when the ship wasn’t even supposed to be at sea.

Because the current sailing was extended due to Hurricane Nicole, however, Rotterdam was in the right place to help 14 refugees to safety from a sinking raft.

Rotterdam‘s First Rescue

The brand new Rotterdam, just christened this spring in her namesake city, has made her first refugee rescue in the tumultuous waters stirred up by Hurricane Nicole, on a day when the ship wasn’t planned to be at sea.

According to the Daily Mail, guests aboard Rotterdam spotted a crowded, makeshift raft bobbing in rough swells at approximately 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 9.

Crew members were alerted, and the Coast Guard was contacted for rescue assistance. Due to the rough seas, however, immediate action was necessary to safeguard those on the raft, which appeared to be cobbled together from styrofoam, tarps, and thin wood planks.

Rotterdam Cruise Ship
Rotterdam Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: StudioPortoSabbia / Shutterstock)

A line was shot out to the raft, and one of the refugees needed to swim approximately 15 yards (13.7 meters) to reach it.

While the incident was harrowing due to the rough weather and the unwieldy raft, all 14 refugees – 13 men and one woman – were brought safely aboard the cruise ship, while the raft was left adrift.

The refugees were provided with food, water, and medical attention. They remained aboard Rotterdam until the ship returned to Port Everglades on Friday morning, and were then turned over to the proper authorities.

This is the first rescue for the relatively new cruise ship, which just arrived in North American waters two weeks ago on its historic anniversary crossing.

Right Place at the Right Time

The Pinnacle-class ship wasn’t originally scheduled to be anywhere near where the rescue was made on Wednesday night.

Rotterdam was sailing a 10-night Southern Caribbean itinerary, with calls in Half Moon Cay, the Dominican Republic, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, and Grand Turk, but the cruise was extended one day when Port Everglades closed due to the storm.

This required the ship to remain offshore in safer waters, well out of the storm’s reach, which conveniently and miraculously put the vessel within reach of the refugees who desperately needed the assistance.

Had there been no storm, Rotterdam would have been in a much different position on Wednesday evening beginning its next sailing, and the refugees would likely have perished.

Rotterdam in Fort Lauderdale

Many cruise ships have been rerouted or delayed this week due to Hurricane Nicole, and while PortMiami has reopened, other Florida homeports remain closed until the storm has fully passed and facilities inspected so they are able to reopen safely.

Due to tumultuous regional politics, poor economies, and other issues, refugee numbers have risen sharply in recent months, and many cruise ships have been involved with at sea rescues, particularly near Cuba.

In just the past few months, two similar rescues have been made by Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, two by Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise and another two by Mardi Gras, and additional rescues by ships from Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, and additional Carnival cruise ships.

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