WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Royal Caribbean cruise turned into a rescue mission Saturday morning as it set sail to the Bahamas.
"The captain came on and said we have to stop, and it was one of those things that Mark said people just started running down the hallway to go check it out and we kind of followed them," cruise passenger Josh Levine said. "It was surreal experience."
Levine and his partner, Mark Jackson, who are from Royal Palm Beach, were onboard the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship when it picked up 17 Cuban migrants that, the captain said, had been adrift for weeks.
"Honestly, my heart broke for them. To be out at sea for 15 or 16 days trying to escape your country for a better life, you have to be going through a lot," Jackson said.
The two said the three-night cruise was supposed to stop at CocoCay in the Bahamas on Saturday but due to rough ocean conditions, it couldn't dock and stayed at sea.
"It's kind of a blessing that we didn't end up going to dock a CocoCay, because who knows if another cruise line or ship would've picked them up or seen them," Jackson said.
"Once it's happening in front of you, it's really really different. You can see the people showing up, crying on the boat," said cruise passenger Danielle McMahon. "It's just a totally different experience seeing their reaction to being rescued. It was insane."
McMahon and her fiancé, Brian Cannon, are from Wellington and are celebrating their wedding-to-be with their bachelor and bachelorette parties on the cruise.
WPTV reached out to Royal Caribbean and they released the following statement:
“While enroute to The Bahamas, Liberty of the Seas encountered a small vessel adrift and in need of assistance. The ship’s crew immediately launched a rescue operation, safely bringing 17 people onboard. The crew is actively giving them medical attention, and working with the United States Coast Guard.”
"I think it's definitely one for the books I've been on multiple cruises and nothing like this has ever happened before, so I'll definitely remember this forever," said McMahon.