9 Cuban Migrants Die, 18 Others Rescued By Cruise Ship Off Coast Of Florida

The United States Coast Guard has announced that on Friday, March 18, Cuban migrants were rescued when they were found 130 miles west of Marco Island in southwest Florida, and provided for by Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship. The rescued migrants said that nine persons from their group had died on the treacherous journey.

The Cuban migrants had spent 22 days at sea and the bodies of those who had died were placed overboard the “rustic” 30 foot boat they were traveling in. The surviving migrants were in really bad shape when found and all were suffering from severe dehydration. Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney relayed that “they could barely walk off the vessel itself” because “they were weak and they were shaking.”

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The rescue occurred at about 7 a.m. on Friday after the cruise ship had departed from Tampa on Thursday. Royal Caribbean reported the events to the coast guard, advising that the unexpected passengers would then be taken to Cozumel, Mexico, which was the next port of call for the cruise ship.

The Daily Mail wrote that Coast Guard Captain Mark Gordon gave a speech expressing his condolences for those who had died at sea, while also trying to express upon anyone attempting the journey from Cuba to the United States illegally, just how dangerous such a task would be.

“Our deepest condolences to the families of the nine people who recently did lose their lives. Unfortunately, tragedy is all too common when taking to the sea in homemade vessels with no safety or navigation equipment. The dangerous waters of the Florida Straits can be unforgiving for the unprepared on ill advised and illegal voyages. Immigration policies have not changed and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels. It is illegal and extremely dangerous.”

A passenger on the Royal Caribbean ship that rescued the migrants on Friday uploaded a video of the moment they climbed on board and can be viewed below.

The rescue of the 18 Cuban migrants came just days before President Barack Obama was set to make a historic trip to Cuba in the hopes of changing the hostilities behind the current U.S. – Cuba relationship.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, widely known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, any Cuban migrant that is found at sea is either taken to a third country or repatriated. However, if the migrants do make it to U.S. soil, they are more often than not allowed to remain in the country for up to a year and then given the opportunity to pursue a green card. The policy has led many immigration advocates to criticize the seemingly double standards of how the United States migrants from Cuba versus those from the South and Central Americas.

Despite the renewed relations between the two countries, and the new possibilities made possible by the lifting of the embargo, there has been no indication that the U.S. policy regarding Cuban migrants will change.

The Coast Guard’s press release mentioned that since the diplomatic relations with Cuba stabilized, there has actually been a noticeable increase in Cubans making illegal maritime migrations. Christian Science Monitor provided statics which showed that from 2014 to September 2015, about 4,473 Cubans tried to migrate illegally, but between October and December 2015 alone 1, 536 migrants attempted the crossing.

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It appears that many Cubans fear that if their country and the United States rebuild a relationship they would repeal the “wet foot, dry foot policy, and even if the migrants reach American soil, they will not be allowed to stay. The Coast Guard mentioned that the belief has led to migrants they encounter being more aggressive.

On the same day that the 18 migrants were rescued by Royal Caribbean, another 42 were returned to Cuba by the Coast Guard. Earlier in the week, these migrants had been picked up, on two separate incidents, in the Florida Straits.

[Photo Courtesy of Angel Villegas/AP Images]