A Jewish couple from Hertfordshire have described the dramatic moment their luxury cruise was suddenly halted to rescue more than 200 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.
The luxury 1072-foot Celebrity Beyond liner with 3,950 passengers on board, which was sailing from Sicily, suddenly changed course to assist the rescue coastguard already on site.
The 12-day trip was due to visit Santorini, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi and Athens before docking in Naples.
Passengers Melvyn and Vivienne Ansher left Port Civitavecchia near Rome on Monday. Melvyn told Jewish News: “We awoke on Tuesday to a message from the captain telling us were part of a rescue operation for 200 migrants whose boat had broken down in the middle of the sea.
“Our role was to act as a wind shield for the migrant boat to help ensure it did not capsize. Coastguards took the migrants on board and transferred them to our ship. It’s not possible to tell where they were heading, but I imagine mainland Europe. I don’t know where they came from. It was pitiful because we could hear them screaming and shouting.”
The couple believe the plan is to transport the migrants to the next stop, the island of Santorini, where they will be taken off the ship.
Melvyn added: “I’ve been told they are sent back to their own countries but I’m not sure. The passengers can’t be angry. There were 200 lives at risk in the middle of the sea. It’s likely they paid a lot of money to people traffickers to seek asylum abroad. I’ve spoken to a member of the crew who told me that when the ship is in the Caribbean it is not unusual for them to rescue Cubans in boats fleeing Cuba and trying to get to the US.”
European Border and Coast Guard Agency FrontEx estimates the number of irregular border crossings reported by national authorities increased to 54,000 in the first three months of this year; that’s a 26% increase from the same period in 2022. Routes across the central Mediterranean accounts for more than half of all irregular border crossings into the EU.
Celebrity Cruises spokesperson Clay Blackham told Jewish News: “While enroute to Santorini, Greece, Celebrity Beyond assisted the Italian Coast Guard with a small vessel in distress. Once the Coast Guard arrived on scene to further assist the vessel, Celebrity Beyond was released from the area, and there are no impacts to her itinerary.”
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