Disney Fantasy assisted United States Coast Guard vessels on Sunday, November 20, 2022, as part of a search and rescue operation when a homemade refugee craft was reported capsized in the cruise ship’s vicinity. While most of the refugees were rescued, several individuals were reported to have drowned before rescue vessels arrived.
Disney Fantasy Assists in Rescue Operation
The Dream-class Disney Fantasy was enjoying a day at sea when the call came in from the United States Coast Guard (USCG), and the ship stopped to offer support. USGS boats and planes were also involved in the activity.
When Disney Fantasy stopped, not a typical occurrence even during a leisurely day at sea, the ship’s cruise director announced that “we have been requested to assist in a search and rescue operation.”
The incident occurred approximately 50 miles south of Little Torch Key, putting it midway between the Florida Keys and Cuba. This area has been a common location for refugee rescues in the past few months.
Several individuals were rescued, but four refugees were reported to have drowned quickly when their makeshift craft capsized.
While the overall weather in the area was clear, the waves were averaging 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) with winds of 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). In those conditions, it could be challenging for individuals to remain safely buoyant without proper gear.
According to the USCG, the individuals who drowned were not wearing lifejackets or other floatation devices.
Nine individuals were successfully rescued, but it is not known how many total refugees may have been aboard the craft.
While Disney Fantasy did remain in the area for a short time in case the cruise ship’s assistance was required, it is unclear how much involvement the ship or its crew played in the overall operation.
Schedule Not Impacted
The cruise ship has resumed its course toward Cozumel, Mexico, where it is scheduled to visit on Monday, November 21.
Despite the short delay, there is no indication that there will be any need for port schedule changes or other alterations to the ship’s itinerary.
Disney Fantasy is currently sailing a 7-night roundtrip Western Caribbean itinerary, having departed Port Canaveral on Saturday, November 19.
After the day at sea and the call on Cozumel, the ship will also visit Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Disney Cruise Line’s private island destination in The Bahamas, Castaway Cay.
Disney Fantasy will return to Port Canaveral on Saturday, November 26.
This sailing is also one of the first “Very Merrytime” sailings of the season, with holiday decorations onboard and special activities each day to celebrate the season.
Busy Region for Rescues
The Straits of Florida between Cuba and the Florida Keys are a very busy region for refugee rescues, as just under 100 miles separates Cuba from the United States – the closest point between the two countries.
Poor economic conditions in Cuba, along with repressive government policies, high crime, and other uncertainties have forced many desperate refugees to take their chances on the open water rather than remain in their home country.
Multiple cruise ships have been involved with refugee rescues in recent weeks, offering aid to vessels in distress or taking refugees aboard when necessary due to rough seas or unseaworthy vessels.
Ships from Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Virgin Voyages, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International have all assisted refugee craft just in 2022.
Disney Fantasy has rescued Cuban refugees previously, having spotted three individuals clinging to a capsized craft in April 2016.
During that incident, the refugees were in fact trying to return to Cuba due to outstanding warrants in the United States, and the USCG took over the operation to bring the refugees to the proper authorities.