It’s not a place most travelers expect to see when they set sail from Florida ports. Some passengers spotted makeshift boats full of people desperate to get out of Cuba.
In 20 years of sailing, Angie Peralta has never seen anything like what she saw on her Labor Day weekend cruise.
“So I go to my balcony and there’s a boat, it was full of people from Cuba asking for water and basically asking for help,” Peralta said.
She said the cruise ship crew offered the migrants water, blankets and life jackets.
“They started clapping, they said thank you, you know that was nice,” Peralta said.
It is a site that is becoming more and more common. Thousands of Cubans board flimsy boats in a desperate attempt to reach the United States.
The US Coast Guard 7th Southeast District covers areas such as Florida, Puerto Rico, Georgia and South Carolina. The Coast Guard told FOX 35 News it apprehended 6,182 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2022. These numbers are significantly higher than in fiscal year 2021, when there were 838. In 2020, the Coast Guard stopped 49 migrants at sea during the height of the pandemic.
U.S. Coast Guard public affairs specialist Nicole Groll said the boats migrants travel on are often made of poor quality materials and are unsafe.
“It’s wood surrounded by styrofoam, floating jerry cans, tarps, plywood and eventually anything that will float,” Groll said.
Once the US Coast Guard makes contact, the migrants are given food, water, shelter and basic medical care before being sent back home. Stopping for migrant boats is something the Coast Guard has said cruise ships are required to do because of UN laws of the sea.
The Coast Guard blames political and economic instability for pushing people out of Cuba.
University of Central Florida junior Kalec Rodriguez knows how he feels. He came to the US six years ago and is not shocked to see the growing number of Cuban migrants wanting to come to the US.
“What drives people to come in droves is that there is nothing worse than Cuba,” Rodriguez said. “I would understand because when I was there there was nothing worse than Cuba.
He had no school supplies for most of the years he spent there. “We didn’t have pencils, we didn’t have erasers, we didn’t have exercise books, we didn’t have books, we didn’t even have tables or chairs to sit on.”
Other Cuban American students said the COVID-19 pandemic has only made an already bad situation worse.
“Sometimes there is no food, milk for the children. There is no bread, there is nothing,” said Elizabet Perez.
“They are willing to put their lives on the line just to go somewhere else, even if they don’t have the proper means to get here,” added Rolando Gomez.
Haydee Oves works for YOCUBA, a shipping company that helps ship packages to Cuba. He says people are transporting basic necessities like food, milk and clothes to the island.
“Medicine is another thing, they don’t have anything there,” said Oves.
While it’s something Peralta saw on her trip that shocked her, she will remember the compassion of the crew and other passengers.
“Everybody that was in the balcony started clapping because it was a very heartfelt thing, you know I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said.
Maria Gonzalez, a Cuban American student at UCF, added, “I know a lot of people might see the videos and say why are they doing this, it’s so dangerous, or they shouldn’t come. I think you just have to have empathy because if you’re there you’ve never been, so you don’t really know what it’s like.”