While bad weather forced Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas to forgo a planned port of call, the result was very fortunate indeed as the ship found itself in the position to rescue a group of refugees from rough conditions and a makeshift craft. The rescue was a tricky one due to the challenging conditions, but all refugees were safely brought aboard the cruise ship.
Liberty of the Seas Rescues Refugees
The wayward craft was sighted just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 14, 2023, and Liberty of the Seas turned to assess the situation and offer assistance, as is protocol for any boat that appears to be in distress.
At the time, guests onboard the Freedom-class cruise ship reported the conditions as very choppy water and quite breezy, a situation that would be very dangerous for any small, ill-equipped boat.
Because of the poor conditions, however, the cruise ship was unable to launch a rescue craft, which could have been damaged as it was released from the ship. Instead, the refugees rowed toward the ship and were able to catch a rope to tie up alongside the vessel as guests cheered and applauded for the fortuitous encounter.
The small boat appeared to be constructed from reused wood and was overloaded with 17 individuals, male and female, aboard. A battered piece of cloth was affixed to the bow, perhaps to be used as a sail or shade for the occupants, but it had been torn away before the boat met the cruise ship.
After the rescue, the small craft was left adrift, with its position reported to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) so other vessels would be aware of the debris. The USCG will also take custody of the refugees as soon as possible, and they will be repatriated to their home country.
A Rescue That Might Not Have Happened
It is doubly lucky for the refugees that the cruise ship was able to come to their aid, as the cruise ship was not supposed to be sailing on Saturday.
Liberty of the Seas is currently sailing a 3-night weekend itinerary to The Bahamas, with two planned port visits. The ship was supposed to have been docked at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island destination, on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will call on Nassau on Sunday.
Because of bad weather throughout The Bahamas, however, the ship’s visit to CocoCay was cancelled, and because the ship was enjoying a day at sea instead, it was in the right place at the right time to encounter the imperiled refugees.
Liberty of the Seas‘ rescue comes at a time when refugee encounters are noticeably high, with multiple cruise ships from multiple cruise lines having made similar rescues since the first of the year.
Weather Affecting Multiple Ships
Several cruise ships in The Bahamas and as far north as Bermuda have adjusted their itineraries because of the strong cold front that is causing gusty winds and choppy waves that make both docking and tendering unsafe.
On Friday, January 13, Norwegian Escape cancelled its visit to Great Stirrup Cay, while the new Norwegian Prima cancelled its planned Saturday visit to the private island. On Thursday, Norwegian Gem shortened its extended call in Bermuda to avoid the worst of the weather.
In addition to Liberty of the Seas missing out on CocoCay on Saturday, Oasis of the Seas also cancelled that port stop on the same day.
Throughout Saturday, weather at both Great Stirrup Cay and CocoCay included wind gusts as high as 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour). Conditions may remain poor through Sunday and could impact additional ship visits for that day.