Virgin Cruise Ship Rescues 18 Cuban Refugees from Sinking Boat

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Another rescue at sea happened during the holiday season, when the crew aboard Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady plucked 18 refugees from a makeshift boat in the Caribbean on New Year’s Eve. It was the fourth cruise ship rescue of migrants in the region within a week.

Boat Sighted Between Key West, Cuba

The group of 18 Cuban refugees, including men, women, and children, encountered Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady between Key West and Cuba on December 31, 2002, while the ship was sailing its 6-night New Years’ Ahoy Cruise from Miami. Scarlet Lady had departed Costa Maya and was headed to Bimini.

According to reports, the refugee boat was spotted around 5:30 PM, and a crew member swam to the boat with a rope while its inhabitants were bailing water from the vessel and yelling for help. The group was taken on board, in accordance with maritime law that requires cruise ships to assist anyone in distress at sea.

Involved in the rescue was Scarlet Lady captain Giovanni Schiaffino, who posted a photo of the rescue on Instagram and wrote: “I will never forget this photo, because in this image there are fear, hope, charity, desperation, strength, love, fraternity, honor, desire, dreams, emotion, altruism, solidarity.”

Schiaffino continued, “and if you pay attention in that arm outstretched by our crew member, may notice 1094 outstretched arms and outstretched hands from all my amazing Scarlet crew members, and I’m sure from all of us at VV. Thanks again for what we all did together.

The ship changed course and began heading to Key West. A US Coast Guard vessel arrived at about 9 PM and transferred the refugees onboard. Guests watching the transfer said refugees had been given spa robes and Virgin Voyages uniforms to wear.

Scarlet Lady Rescue
Photo Credit: Captain Giovanni Schiaffino

Scarlet Lady then continued her New Year cruise with a port call in Bimini before returning to Miami on January 2, 2023. The 2,770-guest ship departed on her next cruise as scheduled, a four-night Fire and Sunset Soiree sailing to Nassau and Bimini in the Bahamas.

Cruise Ship Rescues No Longer Uncommon

It wasn’t the first time that a Virgin cruise ship had come upon Cuban refugees. On September 14, 2022, Scarlet Lady’s crew rescued eight people found on a makeshift raft north of Cuba. Its occupants were taken onboard, and proper authorities were alerted.

There were other end-of-year rescues in the same area. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Sunrise picked up several refugees from a small boat off the Cuba coast on December 30, 2022, while the ship was headed back to its homeport in Miami.

Three days later, Carnival Celebration rescued five refugees on a makeshift raft off the coast of Havana, Cuba. The ship was on her way back to Miami, too. And on January 2, 2023, Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Beyond rescued 19 Cuban migrants in the Florida straights as the ship was returning to its homeport in Fort Lauderdale.

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