A cruise ship rescued 18 Cuban migrants off the Florida coast Friday morning, ending a dangerous voyage in which the migrants said nine other travelers died, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The migrants were picked up just west of Marco Island by Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, which was bound for Cozumel, Mexico. The migrants, who said they had been at sea for 22 days, were to be treated for severe dehydration at that port of call, the Coast Guard said. The cruise ship reached land Saturday morning.
Coast Guard officials said they had not yet been able to confirm the information about the deaths of the nine migrants.
"Unfortunately, tragedy is all too common when taking to the sea in homemade vessels with no safety or navigation equipment," Coast Guard Captain Mark Gordon said in a statement. Gordon is in charge of enforcement for the guard's 7th District, which includes Miami.
Illegal crossing attempts have risen steadily since U.S. and Cuban leaders announced efforts to renew diplomatic relations in December 2014, the Coast Guard said.
Since the October 1 start of the fiscal year, 2,420 Cubans have attempted illegal crossings, the Coast Guard estimated, citing measures such as landings as well as interdictions in the Florida Straits, Caribbean and Atlantic. In February alone, 269 Cuban migrants tried to reach U.S. shores.
While the United States turns back most migrants who arrive illegally, the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Law grants special privileges to Cubans fleeing the communist nation. Those who reach dry land in the United States are allowed to stay. Those who are intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.
Rumor on policy
The increased attempts stem in part from a rumor that the U.S. will repeal this “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney told VOA. But the Coast Guard statement emphasized “immigration policies have not changed.”
Barney also said relatively calm seas have encouraged recent attempts at migration: “The better the weather, the higher the flow.”
On Friday, the Coast Guard repatriated 42 Cuban migrants who had been interdicted in the Florida Straits earlier in the week. They were returned to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba.