Coast Guard sees dramatic increase in number of Cubans making dangerous journey

On Sunday, a Carnival cruise ship headed to Tampa rescued Cuban migrants. The U.S. Coast Guard said it’s a scene they are seeing repeated over and over.

“In the last several months, here in the fiscal year 2016, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of Cubans taking to the sea that far exceeds last year’s pace,” Lt. Commander Gabe Somma with the Coast Guard said.

Jill Amore was a passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in March when the Captain announced he was turning the ship around to make a rescue at sea. “We could see specs on the water, just tiny little specs. These people were in the smallest little vessel that you’ve ever seen out on the open water,” Amore said.

She took one photo of a small boat with six men on board. “It looked like someone built a shack on top of a row boat,” Amore added.

The cruise ship took the six men on board and offered them safety – but not a trip to the United States.

Cubans trying to reach US ahead of diplomatic changes

Somma said the Coast Guard has encountered more than 1,500 Cuban migrants in the first quarter of the fiscal year, which started in October 2015. “What’s concerning is in the past five years we’ve had a 350 percent increase in Cuban migration attempts,” he said.

Somma maintains many of the vessels they find with Cuban migrants are unsafe and aren’t seaworthy.

The Coast Guard is learning from interviews with the Cubans they encounter at sea that they are leaving their country because they believe U.S. immigration policy is about to change and because economic conditions in their country are not improving. “Anytime there is any kind of perception of a policy change, we know that migrants will take to the sea and attempt to migrate here illegally,” Somma said.

Somma maintains the policy isn’t changing and the Coast Guard will continue to enforce existing immigration law. ” U.S. immigration law has not changed. We still continue to enforce immigration law just as we always have,” he said.

“They just looking for the American Dream,” said Eleaneth Perez who is living out her American Dream in Tampa. Perez has many friends who have made the dangerous journey before so she knows the price many of her fellow Cubans have had to pay.

“This is really sad because some of them never see their family again,” Perez said. “I can’t imagine myself in the middle of the sea. I can’t.”

But Perez said she can imagine the willingness to risk it all for a chance to live the life she is already living. “They want a better life,” Perez said. “That’s all they want.”

News Channel 8 reached out to a spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines, the company involved in Sunday’s rescue. Carnival released a statement. It says, in part, the company follows “a standard protocol when participating in rescue operations … constantly on the lookout for vessels from the bridge.” The ship is expected to return to Tampa on Thursday.

Port officials said they don’t have jurisdiction over these matters.

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