Cruise ship passengers witness rescue of Cubans lost at sea: 'People were cheering'

The Carnival Fantasy helped Coast Guard rescue 23 people adrift at sea for over three days as passengers looked on. (Photo: Twitter)
The Carnival Fantasy helped Coast Guard rescue 23 people adrift at sea for over three days as passengers looked on. (Photo: Twitter)

A Carnival cruise ship filled with vacationing passengers veered off course to help the U.S. Coast Guard rescue 23 people who had been adrift at sea for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico, NBC News reports.

The Coast Guard command centers in both Miami and New Orleans received a report at 1:15 a.m. on Sunday from a Cuban national that his brother and 22 people were floating on a disabled boat, a Coast Guard press release states. The people on board left Cuba on a wooden boat in hopes of reaching Mexico, which broke down. They drifted for three days before a sport fisherman boat spotted them; however, that boat then experienced engine trouble and drifted at sea for another three days.

At approximately 8:40 a.m. on Sunday, a Coast Guard aircrew spotted the stranded boat and radioed for nearby help. The call was answered by the Carnival Fantasy, which was en route from Cozumel, Mexico, to its homeport in Mobile, Alabama.

The cruise ship arrived at the adrift boat two hours later and welcomed all 23 people on board, as passengers witnessed the rescue.

Charlotte Gouvier, a passenger on the cruise ship from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told WAFB-9 that she, among many others, feared that the rescue mission would turn into a recovery.

“We saw the Coast Guard plane flying in circles over an area,” Gouvier told the outlet. “We thought we must be looking for bodies or signs of wreckage because no one could see a boat anywhere … Many of us feared the worst.”

Gouvier said that eventually they spotted the small white boat and that people on board were using a mirror to reflect the sun as a signal.

“When the little boat finally appeared everyone on the deck was overjoyed. People were cheering,” Gouvier said. “The boat looked like it was just being tossed around in the sea, and we couldn’t imagine how seasick those poor people must have been after spending so long on that boat.”

Two of the 23 people were treated for minor issues by the cruise ship's medical staff. Upon arriving in Mobile on Tuesday morning, all 23 people were met by Customs and Border Protection investigators.

Carnival said in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle that they’re working closely with federal authorities: "Yesterday, Carnival Fantasy responded to a distress call and request for assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard as the ship was returning to Mobile. We can confirm that our crew was involved in a rescue at sea involving more than 20 people and we are now working closely with federal authorities."

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