TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Carnival cruise ship returned to Tampa, Florida, on Thursday with more passengers on board than when it left.
During a trip to Honduras and Mexico, the Carnival Paradise came to the rescue of two dozen refugees from Cuba, footage shared with Nexstar’s WFLA shows.
Herman Bips, a passenger on the Carnival Paradise, told WFLA’s Jeff Patterson he noticed a change in speed during the trip, which was his first indication that something was up.
“It was Sunday afternoon around 4 o’clock and the ship felt like it was stopping,” said Bips.
On the horizon, he could see a small dot that looked like a boat. When the cruise ship got closer, Bips could see an overloaded vessel in bad shape.
“Very poor [shape],” said Bips. “Someone said it was actually leaking and they were bailing.”
The captain of the Paradise announced to his passengers that, under maritime law, he would render aide and assistance to the vessel in trouble.
“At that point, I think he knew that he had to take the people on board,” Bips said. “I understand they gave them clothing, medical attention, water, food but they isolated them to a specific area.”
A spokesperson for Carnival confirmed the Paradise rescued 24 people on a small boat that was adrift southwest of Cuba. The ship’s crew provided food, water and medical assistance.
When the Paradise returned to port in Tampa this week, 21 men and three women from Cuba were turned over to the custody of the U.S. Coast Guard. WFLA has learned that it’s likely they will all be sent back to Cuba.
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“I was very sad, I mean it almost brought tears to my eyes that people were so desperate to leave a country and put themselves [at risk],” Bips said. “You know, if we hadn’t seen them, they probably would have drowned.”