W. MI woman on cruise ship that helped Cubans

A makeshift boat rescued by a Carnival Cruise Lines ship. (Courtesy Susie Solis - Jan. 10, 2016)

ALBION, Mich. (WOOD) — A cruise ship took an unexpected stop to pick up Cuban refugees stuck at sea, and a West Michigan woman caught it on camera.

Last week, Susie Solis and her family were on a five-day cruise through the Caribbean on the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Paradise. It was their first full day at sea when something was spotted in the distance near the coast of Cuba.

“My son-in-law saw something flicker out in the sea and I think a lot of other people did, too,” Solis said. “Then we heard someone come over the PA and tell us that there was a ship in distress and that we were going to turn around and investigate.”

When the cruise ship got closer, Solis could see eight people on a makeshift sail boat. There were seven men and a woman. The “boat” was nothing more than materials piled together.

“These were just pieces of Styrofoam stacked on each other,” Solis described. “The sail was held up by a stick.”

Solis said the people on board were frantically waving their hands.

“They were waving like we were going to go by them,” she added.

The crew announced they were bringing the passengers on board.

“Some people were a little nervous about it. Other people were very glad that we were helping somebody in distress,” Solis said.

“The rescue continues Carnival Cruise Lines’ longstanding practice of assisting distressed mariners and vessels at sea,” the company told 24 Hour News 8 in a Thursday statement.

Solis says she’s happy they did.

“It must be terribly difficult to have to flee your country to find safety and I think they were very brave people,” she said. “I just hope they are safe, wherever they are.”

Carnival says the refugees were dropped off when the ship docked in the Cayman Islands and released to Cayman authorities. It’s unclear what happened from there.

The same Carnival ship previously rescued a boat of Cubans in May 2014.

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