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Tampa’s Carnival Paradise cruise ship rescues eight Cuban refugees

500316785_16566389_8colBy Kathryn Varn, From Tampa Bay Times

After days of rain, Diane Miksch was finally able to catch some sun on the lido deck of the cruise ship she was vacationing on last week.

But the relaxation didn’t last long for the St. Pete Beach resident. Soon, crew members of Carnival Paradise, based in Tampa, announced over the ship’s loudspeakers that they had spotted a vessel in distress and were changing course to check it out.

Miksch, 54, said she watched over the railing with a friend as the small raft came into sight. Onboard were eight Cuban refugees asking for help. The passengers could see Cuba on the horizon.

“They had their arms up waving and everything,” she said. “I think they were in pretty dire need to get picked up.”

According to a statement from the Miami cruise line, the ship came across the raft on Jan. 10 around 3:45 p.m. during a five-day Caribbean excursion out of Port Tampa Bay.

Crew members brought the seven men and one woman on board the ship and provided them with food, water and medical help, according to the company. The next day, when the ship stopped in Grand Cayman, the refugees were left with authorities there.

The rescue did not delay the ship’s itinerary, the cruise line said.

This was not the first time a cruise ship was involved in a rescue off Florida’s waters. CNN reported in May 2014 that the same Carnival ship picked up 24 refugees near the Cayman Islands. In October, a Royal Caribbean ship sailing from Port Canaveral saved seven Cuban refugees near the Florida Keys, according to WFTV Orlando.

Miksch said it seemed like almost everyone on board gathered on the side of the ship to watch the encounter. At one point, she said one of the refugees pulled a chunk of Styrofoam from the raft to show how flimsy their vessel was.

While some passengers said they didn’t want the refugees on the ship because of safety concerns, Miksch said most passengers, including herself, cheered them on.

“It was just amazing the different reactions of people,” she said. “To me, I thought it was wonderful. These are people trying to save themselves.”

IMAGE: A raft with eight Cuban refugees drifts in the water near the Carnival Paradise cruise ship Jan. 10. Crew members from the ship, based in Tampa, rescued the refugees after spotting them in the water during a five-day Caribbean excursion.

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