Cruise ship rescues 18 Cuban migrants off Florida coast, 9 died on journey

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. — A cruise ship saved 18 Cuban migrants off the coast of Florida Friday morning after they spent 22 days at sea and lost nine others on the journey, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

While on its way to Cozumel, Mexico, the Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship spotted the migrants' vessel west of Marco Island in Florida. The migrants on-board suffered from severe dehydration, the Coast Guard said.

They told the Coast Guard they initially set off with 27 people, but nine didn't survive the journey.

"Our deepest condolences to the families of the nine people who recently did lose their lives," said Capt. Mark Gordon, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard's 7th District. "Unfortunately, tragedy is all too common when taking to the sea in homemade vessels with no safety or navigation equipment. The dangerous waters of the Florida Straights can be unforgiving for the unprepared on ill-advised and illegal voyages."

Coast Guard officials said they've seen a steady increase in the number of people attempting to cross the waters separating Cuba and the Southeastern United States since President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a normalizing of relations between the two countries in December 2014.

In February alone, 269 Cuban migrants attempted to reach the United States, according to the Coast Guard.

"Immigration politics have not changed and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels," Gordon said. "It is illegal and very dangerous."