Missouri couple's first cruise includes rescue of Cuban refugees - KCTV5

Missouri couple's first cruise includes rescue of Cuban refugees

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© Roger Wilson © Roger Wilson
© Roger Wilson © Roger Wilson
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SEDALIA, MO (KCTV) -

A Missouri couple's first cruise became even more memorable when the crew rescued Cuban refugees fleeing their homeland.

"We were just happy to be going on our first cruise and looking forward to all that and then this strange happenstance came about," Roger Wilson said.

Wilson and Kari Frazier were sound asleep when they woke up to a surprise announcement.

"The captain came on the loudspeaker to make an announcement. He said that the crew had spotted a disabled vehicle, and according to maritime law, the ship was obligated to give assistance," Wilson recounted. "I woke Kari and explained the situation. We both then went out on our balcony to see if we could see anything."

What they saw was a spotlight coming from the cruise ship pointing into the waters. As the spotlight scanned the sea, Wilson said they'd occasionally catch a glimpse of a small boat bobbing in the waves.

"We couldn't believe what we were seeing. Kari said it looked like something out of a movie!" Wilson exclaimed.

Wilson said the boat was brought alongside the cruise ship, and, one by one, the passengers were brought on board. Altogether, 34 men and five women were rescued.

He took pictures and video of the disabled vessel carrying the refugees.

"It was definitely not seaworthy," he said. "They definitely wanted to leave Cuba pretty bad to be in that boat."

Frazier was also stunned by what she saw.

"It was just unbelievable," she said. "I don't see how they stayed above [the water]. I am surprised it didn't sink."

Passengers gathered around the railings to watch the rescue unfold over an hour.

"Everyone had their phones out shooting pictures. When they finally got all the people on board everyone cheered. Then the empty boat floated past and no one could believe how terrible the conditions on the boat must have been," Wilson continued.

The couple's cruise aboard the Carnival Cruise Line ship, The Dream, started in New Orleans. It included stops in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica before heading back to the Crescent City.

The cruise ship encountered the refugees halfway between Grand Cayman and Jamaica about 11 p.m. on May 7.

The boat continued on to Jamaica.

Wilson said the refugees were kept in the crews's quarters until the Coast Guard came from Miami as the boat traveled off the coast of Cuba.

The rescue was the talk of the boat.

"The captain then made another announcement telling everyone that they had been successfully transferred to the Coast Guard ship. It is so hard to believe that someone would risk their life in a boat of this condition," Wilson said.

His memories of his first cruise will include the rescue. They said their experience has made them even more proud to be an American.

"Everyone on the boat was actually cheering and was clapping like they were very proud of what we'd just done," Wilson said.

The couple enjoyed their first cruise so much that they are already planning their second one.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the refugees were taken to Jamaica where they could seek political asylum. However, another report left their fate unclear including whether they were returned to Cuba.

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