Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas offered assistance to two refugee boats in the Straits of Florida in one day as the ship was returning to Port Canaveral from Cozumel, Mexico. Both encounters were on Wednesday, December 21, 2022, during the ship’s day at sea.
Jewel of the Seas Offers Assistance
Jewel of the Seas was on the last full day of a 5-night Bimini and Cozumel itinerary when the ship encountered not one, but two boats of refugees in the Straits of Florida, between Cuba and Florida.
The first small refugee boat was spotted approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Havana. That boat appeared to be in distress, and the cruise ship launched one of its boats to investigate.
The refugee craft’s engine was having difficulty, but was able to be successfully restarted. The cruise ship also provided food, water, and other supplies to the refugees, and the small boat continued on its way without transferring any individuals to the cruise ship.
Later in the day, another small craft was spotted in the water, this time approximately 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Havana and 40 miles (64 km) south-southeast of Key West. During that encounter, the cruise ship slowed but did not stop and there was no direct contact with the refugees.
It is likely that the individuals onboard the small boat were able to wave off the ship or otherwise communicate that they did not require assistance.
The cruise ship’s crew would have reported the encounters, including exact positions, to the proper authorities as needed, but was not involved in any further operations and Jewel of the Seas continued on her way without any significant delays.
The Radiance-class ship returned to her new homeport, Port Canaveral, on time, and has already departed on her next sailing, a 9-night Southern Caribbean holiday sailing that will visit Labadee, San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts before returning to Port Canaveral on New Year’s Eve.
Why Not Bring the Refugees Onboard?
Cruise ships are bound by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Chapter V, Regulation 33 of which states: “A master of a ship at sea, which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance.”
The code was first adopted in 1914 after the Titanic disaster, and has been updated several times in the past century.
The assistance a cruise ship offers can be in many forms. During minor encounters, simply confirming that the smaller craft does not require assistance can be sufficient, and there is no obligation to force anyone to come aboard the larger ship if it is not their wish.
A cruise ship may provide food, water, medical supplies, or minor repairs to a smaller craft to help it remain in safe operation.
In extreme cases, if the smaller craft is deemed to be irreparable and unsafe, the occupants – whether refugees, stranded mariners, fishermen, or lost sailors – may be brought aboard the cruise ship and turned over to authorities at an appropriate port of call.
Many Recent Refugee Encounters
Cruise ships from various lines have had many encounters with unsafe refugee craft in 2022, most often bringing the refugees aboard when their own makeshift craft are unstable and unsafe.
Just days ago, on December 15, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas rescued more than 20 refugees in the same general area between Cuba and Florida.
Similarly, in November, Disney Fantasy assisted in a refugee rescue after the smaller boat capsized, while in mid-October, Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady rescued 17 Cuban refugees, again in the same area. Carnival Paradise performed similar rescues in July and again in August, while Norwegian Breakaway did so in August and Mardi Gras performed two rescues in June – and these are just a few of the refugee rescues noted in 2022 alone.
With calmer winter waters in the Caribbean outside of hurricane season tempting more refugees to set off on a risky crossing to the United States, it is likely there will be more rescues by a number of cruise ships in the months ahead.