Virgin Voyages Cruise Ship Rescues Refugee Boat

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Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady has rescued 17 refugees from a small, overcrowded boat near Cuba. The individuals were taken aboard the luxury cruise ship and transferred to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible.

Rescue at Sea

At approximately 6 p.m. on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, crew members aboard Scarlet Lady spotted the small vessel in apparent distress in rough waters. The cruise ship, which was en route between Cozumel, Mexico and Bimini, The Bahamas, turned to offer aid.

While guests onboard who speak Spanish have reported that the refugees were insisting they did not want to be rescued, the small craft was overcrowded and not considered seaworthy. Maritime law, therefore, required the cruise ship to render appropriate aid.

Eventually, the 17 refugees were brought onboard the cruise ship, where they were provided with food, water, and any immediate medical care necessary. Photos and video footage from guests onboard show the small craft abandoned after the rescue, with some meager bundles and containers left behind.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) was contacted and dispatched a vessel to meet up with the cruise ship, at which time the refugees were transferred to the authorities, and Scarlet Lady was released to continue on her way.

The Virgin Voyages’ ship is currently on a 5-night roundtrip Riviera Maya sailing from Miami, which departed on Sunday, October 9. The ship called on Cozumel, Mexico on Tuesday, October 11, and intercepted the refugee vessel at the end of a day at sea on Wednesday.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Photo Credit: Peter Titmuss /

On Thursday, the ship is visiting Bimini in The Bahamas, a resort destination 53 miles east of Miami, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The ship will return to Miami on Friday, October 14.

There have been no changes reported to Scarlet Lady‘s current itinerary, as the rescue was a relatively quick event and did not delay the ship.

Scarlet Lady is the first ship in the new adults-only Virgin Voyages line, having only set sail just one year ago, in October 2021. The ship can welcome can as many as 2,770 guests onboard, and offers the ultimate in luxury service for memorable vacations.

Previous Refugee Rescues

This week’s rescue is not Scarlet Lady‘s first encounter with a refugee craft. In mid-September, the ship rescued 15 refugees from a makeshift raft. That incident was in the same general area as this week’s rescue, at the same time of evening, and on an identical sailing itinerary.

Scarlet Lady Rescue
Photo Credit: Alex Kalogeropoulos

In October 2021, Scarlet Lady rescued eight migrants southwest of Key West, again in the same general area. Those refugees claimed to have been adrift for six days before coming aboard the cruise ship.

Refugee rescues have been on the rise in recent months, with different ships from various cruise lines rendering aid whenever necessary.

What Happens to Refugees?

Any ship, including pleasure craft, cargo vessels, and cruise ships, is required to assist a vessel in distress. While the occupants of ramshackle craft may have strong intentions to continue with their original plans, if the craft is not seaworthy or current water conditions pose an imminent danger to the occupants, the better-equipped vessel must take the refugees aboard.

At that point, the proper authorities are notified based on the location of the incident, the nationalities of those involved, the intent of the refugees, and other factors.

In most cases, refugees must legally be returned to their point of origin.

This can be heartbreaking when it is well known that many refugees are attempting to seek out a better life, but there are legal channels by which to do so.

Cruise ships, in the meantime, will continue to offer necessary aid to safeguard all lives at sea.

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