MIAMI (CBS4)- Seven rafters who were rescued by a cruise ship Friday afternoon on its way back to Port Everglades will be repatriated to their country, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Oasis of the Seas was making its way back to Port Everglades when a small raft was spotted. The ship approached the raft and rescued seven people.
The rafters were later placed in the U.S. Coast Guard’s custody.
Elgommal said the rafters were in good condition when they were transferred to the coast guard. They were also interviewed while on the vessel.
Those on the raft were trying to finish their journey to freedom in America. Passengers on the ship were stunned.
“I just figured it was a one in a million chance,” passenger Rob Popoff said. “You know, such a big ocean and to hop in that little boat.”
This is the second cruise ship to conduct a rescue in the last two months. Another Royal Caribbean ship Allure of the Seas rescued nine Cuban rafters in May, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
The group rescued Friday consisted of six men and one woman, said Royal Caribbean International in a statement.
Passengers spotted a tiny blue raft in the ocean around 3 p.m. Friday and the captain turned around the 220,000-ton ship to rescue the rafters, who were taken aboard and given food, water and medical treatment, according to the statement from Cynthia Martinez, cruise line spokesperson.
The rafters appeared to be bailing out water and praying, said Christi Nasser, a passenger from Tennessee who spotted them and snapped pictures. Her photos showed the rafters looking healthy and well dressed, which may indicate that they could have been dropped off by another vessel.
“As they got closer you could see that they were pretty happy that they were found,” another passenger said. “It seemed like their boat was sinking and they were trying to bail out water and it looked like their boat was not in good shape.”
But the temporary “oasis” for the rafters was quickly over.
The ship notified the U.S. Coast Guard and the seven rafters were later transferred to their custody.
“I feel like when everybody started to realize what actually was happening it was pretty somber,” a passenger said. “It was actually sad because what this family was willing to do was risk their life to get a taste of freedom and get away from Cuba. So it was actually very touching and very sad.”
Under the U.S.-Cuba Immigration Accord, more commonly known as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans who reach American shores are allowed to stay in the US while those found at sea are sent back to Cuba or a third country.
“It’s tough because you could tell that they were really desperate in order to go on to the middle of the ocean to a raft that wasn’t in very good shape,” a passenger said. “You almost wished that they could have made it a little bit farther. And that they could have received the freedom that they wanted.”
On Saturday, Oasis of the Seas concluded its seven-night sailing that departed Port Everglades on Saturday, June 25 and made port calls in Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Cozumel, Mexico, Royal Caribbean said in the statement.
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