Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cuban refugees rescued by cruise ship crew

(3/19/06 - KTRK/GALVESTON, TX) - Dramatic video was caught on tape by a local tourist as more than two dozen Cubans in distress in the waters of the Caribbean were rescued by a cruise ship crew.

The Carnival Conquest ship docked in Galveston late Sunday afternoon and many vacationers say it's a trip they'll never forget. The 28 Cuban refugees will remain on the ship until the ship docks somewhere near Miami later this week. In the meantime, passengers aboard the cruise ship have quite a story to tell.
Amanda Kovach had intended to record memories of her spring break, but she never imagined just how memorable it would be.

"We got closer and closer to the light and it turned out to be a boat. We don't know about that, a boat in the middle of the ocean," said Kovach.

The 17-year-old was on the Carnival Conquest just off the coast of Jamaica when the cruise ship came upon a boat in distress. Onboard, there were 28 Cuban refugees stranded in the middle of the ocean.

"The people were waving to us. They were waving," said Kovach. "We could actually hear them screaming like, calling for help, calling help and we were yelling back at them."

Kovach's videotape captured images of the refugees being rescued by the cruise ship's crew. One by one, the refugees were plucked off the raft boat and brought to safety. Other passengers recall the heroic rescue.

"They had the big bright lights out on it and they kept watching them. They would lose them and then they would find them again," said passenger Tim Coyle.

"It was a pretty long extensive process, but you know it's worth it to save them because I heard they were out on the raft for like two weeks," said eyewitness Kaleb Patchin.

Coast Guard officials say the refugees were kept in a secured area for the remainder of the cruise. Kovach said that passengers raised money and donated clothes for the refugees. It's a civics lesson in the flesh, one that Kovach will remember forever.

"It definitely changes the way I think," he said. "You know, Americans have it so well compared to people in these third world countries where they are escaping their government. They are trying to get away. You know, Americans have it so well. It's so nice."

Immigration and Custom Enforcements will get involved in the case once the cruise ship docks in Florida.

There is a specific government policy dealing with Cuban refugees. It's been dubbed the Wet Feet, Dry Feet Act. It's an amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

During the Clinton administration, there was an agreement made with the Cuban government that any Cuban caught on the waters between the nations, hence, wet feet, would be returned to Cuba or deported to a third country. Any Cuban who makes it to shore and has dry feet can remain in the U.S.

Since these Cubans were found in water, it's likely they will be sent back to Cuba.
(Copyright © 2006, KTRK-TV)

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