A Carnival cruise ship helped the U.S. Coast Guard rescue almost two dozen Cubans who had been adrift at sea for a week in the Gulf of Mexico, authorities said Monday.
After a Coast Guard aircrew spotted the stranded Cubans at about 8:40 a.m. Sunday about 130 miles off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, it radioed for any nearby help, officials said.
The Carnival Fantasy — while en route from Cozumel to Mobile, Alabama — heard the Coast Guard's distress call and raced to meet the 23 people stuck on a sports fishing vessel at about 10:47 a.m., according to a company statement.
"Carnival Cruise Line has a longstanding policy of assisting distressed mariners at sea," according to a company statement.
The harrowing journey began a week ago when 22 people boarded a wooden boat in Cuba, headed for Mexico, when its engines lost power and became adrift at sea for three days, the Coast Guard said.
Those original 22 travelers were picked up by a Cuban-Mexican national in his sports fishing vessel before that craft also lost power, and was adrift at sea for another three days, according to the Coast Guard.
The fishing vessel had a satellite phone and one of the 22 original travelers called his brother in Cuba, who then phoned the Coast Guard directly to ask for U.S. help to search for that disabled craft, Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles said.
It wasn't immediately clear how, or if, the Cuban-Mexican national knew of those original 22 travelers or if any of them are asylum-seekers, according to Giles.
The Carnival Fantasy pulled into Mobile on Monday, when Customs and Border Protection investigators met and interviewed the 23 people who had been rescued, a CBP spokeswoman said. The ship had 2,500 Carnival guests and 900 crew members, according to the company.