• A Carnival cruise ship rescued 24 migrants lost at sea last week, two passengers told Insider.
  • A spokesperson for the company said cruise ships often come to the aid of boats in distress.
  • "It was amazing to watch people cheer and clap once the last person stepped onto the ship," one passenger said. 

Carnival cruise passengers watched on as crew members rescued 24 migrants from a small boat adrift in the Caribbean earlier this month, according to news reports and two passengers on board the ship, who spoke to Insider about the unexpected mission.

The Carnival Spirit, a 2,100-passenger capacity cruise ship, was en route to Aruba on April 11 when it came upon a small motorized boat floating in the open seas between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the cruise line and passengers said.

"I saw them on the starboard side and they were taking on water," said Carol Sutton, 63, who was leaving brunch with her granddaughter when she and other passengers first noticed the boat in the distance.

The cruise ship's captain soon came over the loudspeaker informing passengers that the ship would be slowing down to assist with an emergency rescue, Sutton and another passenger told Insider.

"I could see in the distance a boat loaded with people," said Tonja Senn, 60, an Oklahoman cruising with her husband. "They had some motor capability, a couple of outboard engines, but you could tell they were starting to fail or run out of gas."

Photos of the rescue shared with Insider show the cruise ship maneuvering toward the smaller raft and deploying a side hatch in order to allow the migrants access to the larger boat.

For more than an hour, passengers watched as Carnival crew members helped the migrants board the ship, where they were screened for safety measures and treated by medical staff. A spokesperson for Carnival Cruises told Insider that all 24 people were found to be in good condition, and passengers said the cruise staff provided migrants with food and water. 

"The refugees were happy and jubilant to be found," Senn said.

Passengers said they later heard from crew members and other cruisers that the migrants were Dominican and had been trying to reach Puerto Rico; the group of adults had apparently been adrift for three days by the time Carnival found them, one passenger said, citing conversations with crew members.

The Carnival Spirit rescued 24 people adrift at sea on April 11. Foto: Courtesy of Carol Sutton.

A Carnival spokesperson said the crew coordinates with the US Coast Guard during rescue missions

Approximately two hours after the migrants first boarded the cruise ship, the captain announced the Carnival Spirit would once again change direction, this time to meet up with a Coast Guard vessel which took charge of the migrants upon transfer, passengers said.

Coast Guard officials confirmed to WSVN-TV, a local Miami news station, that the migrants had been trying to reach Puerto Rico, though the agency did not confirm their nationality. The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

WSVN-TV reported that the Coast Guard coordinated with the Dominican Republic liaison, as well as the country's navy, which took care of the migrants as they were presumably returned to their country. 

"It makes your heart sad when you know these people are so desperate," Senn told Insider. "They're feeling the need to escape their country that they would go to such an extent."

But not everyone was apparently as moved by the migrants' plight. Sutton said she was standing near several people who expressed concerns about allowing the refugees on board while observing the rescue.

"People were not being very humanitarian toward them," she told Insider.

Sutton said she heard some passengers complaining about possibly missing or being late to their next port stop scheduled for the following day. The ship's itinerary was not ultimately impacted since the rescue occurred during a sea travel day.

Others seemed to be afraid the refugees could be dangerous, Sutton said.

A Carnival spokesperson told Insider that the ship's medical team found all 24 people to be in good condition. Foto: Courtesy of Tonja Senn and Carol Sutton

But Senn, who agreed that some passengers were "grumbling" about the unplanned rescue, also said the naysayers were very much in the minority. Most of the passengers, she said, were happy to have played a role in the rescue.

"It was amazing to watch the people cheer and clap once the last person stepped onto the ship," she said. 

Though primarily designed as vacation vessels, large cruise ships often come to the aid of those in peril on the sea. Carnival's April rescue was its fifth of 2023, according to The Washington Post, and several other cruise lines have already performed similar assistance missions this year, the majority of which concerned migrants at sea.

Senn, who described herself as an "avid cruiser" of more than 50 cruises in her lifetime, said she has witnessed at least five such rescues.

"We've been on ships where we've rescued rafts in between Cuba and Florida before," she said. "We've even seen one where the raft was empty."

"It just breaks your heart," she added.

Read the original article on Business Insider