By Forrest Brown, CNN
While cruising in open waters not too far from Cuba Friday morning, crew members of the cruise ship Mardi Gras spotted what had to be a chilling sight: a small vessel in rough seas stirred up by a tropical weather system.
The crew saw the distressed vessel just before 8 a.m., Carnival Cruise Line said in a news blog. The Mardi Gras stopped its leisure trip to assist, taking on 16 stranded people.
The distressed vessel was about 60 nautical miles west/northwest from Key West, Florida, according to Matt Lupoli, senior manager for public relations for Carnival.
All the occupants were adults; 11 men and five women, Lupoli told CNN Travel.
Those with identification were of Cuban nationality, he said. All 16 were seen by medical staff onboard the Mardi Gras, and they were given food and clothes.
A rendezvous with the US Coast Guard was coordinated this afternoon at sea, Lupoli said. All 16 occupants were safely transferred onto a Coast Guard cutter at about 2:45 p.m. Friday.
The US Coast Guard cutter met the cruise ship and all 16 people were safely transferred to the cutter, Petty Officer Jose Hernandez confirmed.
“We thank the cruise ship captain and crew for assisting in rescuing these 16 people from what could have been a dangerous voyage, especially with the tropical storm that’s been in the area,” he said in an email to CNN Travel.
A maritime custom to assist
The Carnival ship was on a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean. The ship is returning Saturday to Port Canaveral, Florida, as scheduled after a day at sea, Lupoli said. It made several Western Caribbean stops on its journey, including Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico, and Roatan Island, Honduras.
The Mardi Gras launched in July 2021. Normal occupancy is 5,282, and total officers and crew number 1,745, according to Lupoli.
It’s not unusual for cruise ships to assist in maritime rescues.
In 2020, the Carnival ship Elation rescued 24 people from a sinking boat off the coast of Florida when it had a very small crew and no passengers during the earlier months of the pandemic.
Lupoli said crew members are always scanning the waters and as the captain of the Mardi Gras pointed out to guests onboard, it’s a maritime custom to help anyone in distress at sea.
Tropical Storm Alex expected
The distressed vessel was in a precarious position Friday morning in regard to location and weather.
A broad swath of showers and thunderstorms over the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico could turn into Tropical Storm Alex or a tropical depression, the National Hurricane Center said on Friday. The system is expected to hit Florida on Saturday.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect Friday for more than 10 million people in the southern half of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas.
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Top image: People gather on a fishing pier to watch the Carnival Cruise Line ship Mardi Gras as it departed on its maiden voyage, a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean from Port Canaveral, Florida, on July 31, 2021. (Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) CNN’s Judson Jones contributed to this report.