MSC Cruises Ship Rescues Boat With Two Dozen Refugees

MSC Meraviglia encountered an overcrowded refugee boat in the Straits of Florida on Saturday and successfully rescued all aboard.

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MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia rescued a dramatically overloaded boat with 24 refugees aboard on Saturday, January 14, 2023, as the cruise ship was returning to Port Canaveral at the end of a 9-night itinerary.

The rescue happened during the ship’s last day at sea, and all refugees were safely brought aboard the larger vessel to be brought to the proper authorities.

MSC Meraviglia Rescues 24 Refugees

MSC Meraviglia encountered the overloaded refugee boat at approximately 12 P.M. on Saturday, January 14, as the ship was enjoying a day at sea en route to Port Canaveral. The ship had visited Cozumel, Mexico on Friday, and the incident occurred in the Straits of Florida, between Cuba and the Sunshine State.

Once the small craft was spotted, the 171,598-gross-ton vessel turned around to offer assistance, sending out one of its own lifeboats to make contact with the refugee boat. At the time, the waves were rolling noticeably, but all individuals on the refugee boat were safely transferred to the lifeboat.

The small boat appeared to be covered in a green tarp, and the occupants were waving at the cruise ship and lifeboat to indicate distress.

The rescue took approximately one hour from the time MSC Meraviglia first slowed and turned to when all refugees were safely aboard and the cruise ship resumed course.

MSC Meraviglia Cruise Ship
MSC Meraviglia Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Valokuva24 / Shutterstock)

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) was notified of the encounter, and will take custody of the refugees once the cruise ship returns to Port Canaveral on Sunday, January 15. In the meantime, all individuals are being provided with food, water, shelter, and medical care as necessary.

The ship continued on its way shortly after the rescue, and is scheduled to arrive back in Port Canaveral on time by 7 a.m. Sunday morning. No delays or changes for the next cruise, a 4-night sailing to Nassau and Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, are expected at this time.

Many Refugee Rescues in Same Region

MSC Meraviglia encountered this boat of refugees approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Havana, Cuba, which is also 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Key West, Florida.

This area is the Straits of Florida, the closest point between Cuba and the United States. This is where many refugee encounters have occurred in recent weeks as desperate individuals seek a better life for themselves, whether due to political corruption, economics, criminal activity, or other reasons.

Just in the past month, there have been at least 11 incidents where cruise ships have either assisted or rescued refugee craft.

Carnival Celebration Cruise Rescue
Photo Credit: Leslie Andradi

In addition to MSC Meraviglia, cruise ships that have reported these encounters include Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Beyond, Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady and Scarlet Lady, Holland America Line’s Rotterdam, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Celebration and Carnival Sunrise, and Royal Caribbean International’s Jewel of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas.

In total, these rescues involved more than 75 refugees, all of whom would have been turned over to proper authorities and eventually returned to their home countries as necessary.

Additional rescues have also taken place closer to The Bahamas recently. Rotterdam rescued 14 refugees during Hurricane Nicole in mid-November, while the ship was at sea longer than expected due to the closure of Port Everglades, and similarly, poor weather on January 14 kept Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas from visiting CocoCay, and the ship encountered and rescued refugees instead.

These are only the reported and confirmed rescue encounters, and do not include any rescues by military, cargo, or private mariners, nor any refugee craft that successfully makes it across the Straits to land in the Florida Keys or on the peninsula’s mainland.

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