Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady has assisted a boat of refugees near Cuba, the cruise line’s second such encounter in less than a week. Unlike the first encounter by Scarlet Lady on New Year’s Eve, however, the refugees from the latest incident chose not to board the cruise ship, but accepted supplies and continued on their way.
Valiant Lady Responds to Boat in Distress
Valiant Lady is currently sailing a 4-night roundtrip sailing from Miami, with calls on Key West, Florida and Bimini, The Bahamas. The ship departed from Miami on Wednesday, January 4, 2023, with a day at sea to enjoy before the call on Key West.
It was on the afternoon of that day at sea on Thursday that the ship spotted a small boat in the Straits of Florida between Cuba and the Florida Keys, roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Key West and almost directly south of Duck Key.
The small boat or raft, which was low in the water, appeared to be using a white piece of cloth to signal distress, though the cloth could also have been intended as a makeshift sail or shade for the boat’s several occupants.
Valiant Lady sent out a rescue craft to check on the boat and the refugees chose not to come aboard the cruise ship, though they did accept food and water. After a short time, the rescue boat returned to the cruise ship, which then continued on its way to Key West.
The ship’s planned arrival to Key West at 8 a.m. on Friday, January 6, has not been impacted, and it is unlikely that there will be any need for arrival or departure time adjustments.
This is the second refugee rescue for a Virgin Voyages ship in less than a week, as Scarlet Lady rescued 18 individuals from a makeshift boat on December 31, in the same general region. In that incident, the small boat was dangerously overcrowded and taking on water, so the refugees were taken aboard Scarlet Lady until they could be transferred to a United States Coast Guard (USCG) vessel.
Why Not Bring the Refugees Aboard?
Cruise ships are obligated under maritime law to render assistance to any boat in distress, but there is no requirement that individuals be brought aboard the larger ship if they refuse that assistance, unless their lives are in immediate danger. At no time are any refugees considered prisoners or fugitives, and they are always accorded respect and humanitarian aid as necessary.
In the case of Valiant Lady, it appears that the refugees refused the offer to board the cruise ship, preferring instead to stay aboard their small craft with the hope they could make it safely to Florida.
Valiant Lady, the second “lady ship” of Virgin Voyages’ fleet, would have reported the location and nature of the encounter to the USCG, and the authorities would have sent a vessel to investigate and render additional aid as needed, or to take the refugees into custody if they were officially within United States waters without appropriate documentation.
In most cases, such refugees are safely repatriated to their home countries.
Valiant Lady only debuted with Virgin Voyages in March 2022, but is already honoring maritime traditions with her swift assistance to this refugee boat. With increasing numbers of refugees being encountered in the Straits of Florida, however, it is unlikely to be her last encounter with such a makeshift craft.