Carnival ship provides assistance for stranded rafters - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Carnival ship provides assistance for stranded rafters

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29 people on a makeshift raft were assisted by Carnival ship "Freedom" (Source: Kim Russell) 29 people on a makeshift raft were assisted by Carnival ship "Freedom" (Source: Kim Russell)
29 people on a makeshift raft were assisted by Carnival ship "Freedom" (Source: Kim Russell) 29 people on a makeshift raft were assisted by Carnival ship "Freedom" (Source: Kim Russell)
Carnival ship "Freedom" assisted Cubans until coast guard arrived (Source: Kim Russell) Carnival ship "Freedom" assisted Cubans until coast guard arrived (Source: Kim Russell)
(KLTV) -

East Texans on a Fourth of July vacation say they will never forget what they saw from their cruise ship. The group was headed back to Fort Lauderdale on the Carnival ship called "Freedom" when they ran across a small boat taking on water. Texas state representative Matt Schaeffer was on the cruise and says what happened next left the passengers in awe.

“We were on the last leg of our trip. We were in between Cuba and the Florida peninsula and we were actually having dinner along the upper decks of the ship. We heard a strange announcement over the public announcement system that was basically the ship's crew talking to themselves in code,” he said.

Schaefer says the message didn't make sense.

“The wait staff kind of looked at each other funny. Then somebody at the table noticed a plane circling. I thought that was interesting. Then, we saw it circle again. This time, I noticed it had the markings of the coast guard. So, by then we kind of see some people looking over the rail and the ship beginning to stop and turn a little bit,” he said.

Schaefer says he couldn't believe what he saw next.

“So, we go and we go to the rail and look over the side of the ship and very clearly you could see this, I don't know if you call it a raft or a vessel. It was a very meager vessel to be out there in the open ocean full of at least 29 or 30 people crowded into this little vessel,” he said.

Schaefer says the cruise ship came to a stop and the ship's crew gave the boat's passengers food and water while they waited for the coast guard.

“They didn't have any supplies, food, or water that we could see. No toilet, no shade, no steering system and they were taking on water. They had pails. I mean, we could see this very clearly because they got right up to the cruise ship. They were pailing water. I don't know how long they'd been out there or what, but they obviously needed help,” he said.

Schaefer says the experience was amazing, but also humbling.

“We were out in the middle of the ocean where you have essentially a cruise ship which represents the economic prosperity of the United States next to this little raft [that was] crowded, full of people, out in the middle of the ocean, trying to get to freedom,” he said.

A carnival representative says the boat was from Haiti and had 29 people on board. He says it's part of a longtime maritime tradition to assist distressed mariners at sea. The carnival ship "Freedom" arrived this morning in Fort Lauderdale as scheduled.

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