MIAMI, March 26 (Reuters) – A Carnival Cruise ship rescued 41 Cuban migrants from a small, overcrowded boat in the Florida Straits, the 90-mile span of water between the southern tip of Florida and Cuba, a U.S. Coast Guard official said on Wednesday.
No injuries were reported and the migrants were transferred to a nearby U.S. Coast Guard ship after they were spotted on Tuesday, according to Coast Guard spokesman Gabe Somma.
“This could’ve been a real tragedy. There was no lifesaving or navigation equipment and the boat was taking on water,” he said.
The migrants will be returned to Cuba “in a couple of days,” Somma said.
Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said the cruise ship was traveling from Key West, Florida, to Cozumel, Mexico, with 2,650 passengers onboard.
For decades, thousands of Cubans seeking to escape the communist-led island have fled on rickety vessels bound for Florida, Central America and nearby islands.
A large spike came in the mid-1990s, when tens of thousands of Cubans fled toward Florida and hundreds of refugees flowed toward other Caribbean islands.
Cruise ships have been involved in several previous rescues.
A Carnival ship earlier this month plucked 24 migrants from a wooden boat near the Cayman Islands.
Last April, the Carnival Conquest and the Disney Wonder rescued 21 Cuban migrants on stricken boats in two separate incidents in the Florida Straits. (Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Kevin Gray and Cynthai Osterman)