Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas rescued an overcrowded boat with more than 20 refugees, including at least one child, on Thursday, December 15, 2022. All the refugees were brought safely aboard the cruise ship and transferred to the proper authorities.
Symphony of the Seas Rescue
The Oasis-class Symphony of the Seas was enjoying a leisurely day at sea in transit from Cozumel to CocoCay on Thursday when a small craft overcrowded with refugees was spotted in the waters north of Cuba and southwest of Key West at approximately 4:30 p.m.
The cruise ship responded, sending out a small pilot craft to investigate. A total of 22 refugees were onboard the overcrowded craft, which appeared to be taking on water. The refugees were waving their arms and otherwise trying to attract attention for a rescue.
The refugees, which appeared to include at least one woman and child, were transferred to the cruise ship, and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) was notified. Later in the day, the refugees were transferred to the Coast Guard authorities.
While the Coast Guard did not confirm the nationality of the refugees, the Straits of Florida area between Cuba and the Florida Keys is often a location where individuals fleeing Cuba are located, as Havana, Cuba and Key West, Florida are just 103 miles (165 kilometers) apart.
This relatively short distance is tempting for desperate individuals to attempt a crossing in any sort of raft, rowboat, or makeshift watercraft, though they are not typically seaworthy and do not generally carry adequate safety gear or supplies.
“Unfortunately in this area, this isn’t uncommon,” said Petty Office Nicole Groll in a statement to News 5 WKRG.
These specific refugees were fortunate to be spotted by Symphony of the Seas. Onboard the cruise ship, they were given food, water, and medical attention before being transferred to USCG authorities. Under the authority of the USCG, refugees are typically repatriated to their home country.
At the time of the rescue, Symphony of the Seas was sailing a 7-night roundtrip Western Caribbean cruise that had departed from Miami on Saturday, December 10. The ship was not significantly delayed due to the rescue since the incident occurred during a day at sea, and the ship is scheduled to return to Miami on December 17.
Many Rescues in Recent Months
At-sea rescues of refugee craft have risen in recent months, as economic and political conditions in different countries compel people to seek a better life for themselves and their families, no matter the risk of crossing occasionally hazardous waters in makeshift boats or rafts.
In November, Disney Fantasy assisted in a refugee rescue in the same general area between Cuba and Florida after the refugee boat had capsized, while in mid-October, Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady rescued 17 Cuban refugees, again in the same area.
Just in 2022, similar rescues have been made by Carnival Paradise (6 refugees in August, and 20 in late July); Norwegian Breakaway (20 refugees in mid-August); Carnival Sunrise (12 refugees at the end of July); Mardi Gras (20 total refugees in two separate June rescues); Celebrity Apex (3 refugees in late February); and other ships.
Maritime law requires that vessels extend emergency assistance to any craft in distress, whether by taking stranded individuals aboard a stronger, safer craft or by offering repairs and supplies so the smaller vessel can safely continue.
Cruise Hive commends the crew of Symphony of the Seas, whose quick actions undoubtedly saved lives in this at-sea rescue.