Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Fantasy rescued four refugees just north of Havana, Cuba on December 31, 2023. The cruise ship was enjoying a day at sea on its current sailing, when the small craft was spotted and Disney Fantasy rendered assistance.

As Disney Fantasy was sailing just north of Cuba on Sunday, December 31, 2023, a small, unpowered craft was spotted with four individuals crowded aboard. The cruise ship immediately stopped to assist, sending out its own pilot craft and rescue personnel to bring the refugees aboard.

All four individuals were successfully rescued, and would have been given any immediate medial care necessary aboard Disney Fantasy, as well as food and water. The cruise ship diverted course slightly to rendezvous with Cuban Coast Guard authorities in order to transfer the refugees to the proper authorities.

Repatriating refugees back to their country of origin is standard practice with these types of rescues. When refugees are brought aboard a cruise ship, they may be taken to the next port of call in order to reach the authorities, depending on where they are found and how convenient a rendezvous may be.

The incident happened approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) off Cuba’s northern coast, northwest of Havana. Since Disney Fantasy was very close to Havana at the time, it was easy for the ship to divert without a significant impact on her itinerary.

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Disney Fantasy is currently sailing a 7-night Western Caribbean sailing for the New Year, having departed Port Canaveral on Saturday, December 30. The day of the rescue was a day at sea, making it easy for the ship to adjust speed and sailing route to preserve the overall schedule while still rendering aid to those in need.

The 129,690-gross-ton Disney Fantasy will visit Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Castaway Cay, Bahamas during the week-long cruise ringing in the new year, before returning to Port Canaveral on Saturday, January 6. The ship can welcome 2,500 guests aboard at double occupancy, or as many as 4,000 passengers when fully booked with all berths filled.

This region of the Straits of Florida is particularly common for refugee rescues, often individuals attempting to leave Cuba in the hopes of a better life in the United States or other nations.

Key West, Florida is just 105 miles (169 km) north-northeast of Havana. While this can be a perilous trip in a small, makeshift craft, the rewards of a new life often seem worthwhile to individuals who may be facing dire situations in their home country.

January is a popular month for such rescues, as the weather patterns in the region make it easier for rafts, lifeboats, rowboats, and other less-than-seaworthy craft to attempt the journey.

Celebrity Beyond Rescue (Footage Credit: Captain Kate McCue)

In 2023, for example, Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Beyond made two rescues in the region in just five days – assisting two different groups of individuals on January 2 and on January 7. Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady also encountered refugees in the region on January 5, while MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia encountered a dramatically overcrowded refugee boat on January 14.

Other ships from different cruise lines performed similar rescues throughout the year in different areas of the Caribbean, and several ships made intense rescues in the Mediterranean as well.

Rescue operations can always be tense situations, as crew members take every step necessary to safeguard those in peril. Whether it is a refugee craft, disabled fishing vessel, cargo ship, ferry, or other type of vessel, assistance will always be offered in accordance with international maritime law.

It should be noted, however, that refugees can refuse assistance and cannot be compelled aboard another vessel so long as their craft is still functional and has adequate supplies. The small lifeboat Disney Fantasy encountered, however, had no motor and would likely not have been successful at crossing the Straits of Florida.

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