SIU members sailing aboard the American Phoenix were in the right place at the right time, and helped to rescue a raft full of Cuban migrants adrift in the Straits of Florida on Nov. 22.
The SIU members sailing aboard the Seabulk-operated tanker included: Recertified Bosun Charles Hill; ABs Nicholas Carey, Edward Gavagan, Andrew Graham, Edward Majesky and James Riley; QEP Benjamin Mathews; OMUs Damir Josipovic, Javier Murillo Solorzano and Jose Smith; Steward Baker John Greubel, Chief Cook Jose Clotter and GVA Ricardo Escorcia. The officers aboard the vessel are represented by the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers.
Vessel master Capt. Thomas Liebsch reported, “At 0742 local time on November 22, while the American Phoenix was transiting from Port Everglades to the Southwest Pass, the 2nd Mate and lookout, AB Andrew Graham, spotted a small object approximately 3.5 nautical miles from the vessel. Upon further inspection, they could see a raft with men onboard, waving their arms and a flag.”
Graham stated, “We saw an object from afar and when it got closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw people trying to flag us down. I thought it was trash at first, they were being pushed into the Gulf of Mexico and had minimal supplies left. They may have had a grave outcome if we hadn’t spotted their little makeshift raft.”
The raft was described by the captain as a “makeshift craft, poorly constructed of plywood and Styrofoam and with an open bottom, with seven Cuban migrants onboard.” After contacting the United States Coast Guard Sector Key West, the crew of the American Phoenix was first advised to remain in the area, and then later instructed to attempt a rescue and bring the migrants aboard. Liebsch continued, “At 0828 local time, the USCG asked if the vessel would attempt a rescue and disembark the migrants from the raft onto the ship. The Chief Mate and Bosun Charles Hill directed ABs Andrew Graham, Ed Gavagan, Eddie Majesky and Nick Carey, and QMED Benjamin Mathews to rig the accommodation and pilot ladders and prepare life rings and heaving lines. With the Captain giving rudder commands, AB James Riley carefully steered the vessel closer to the raft and the crew was able to get a sea painter over by using a line throwing appliance. Once the raft was safely alongside, all seven migrants were transferred to the ship at 1015 local time.”
Clotter provided translation assistance between the crew and the migrants. He stated, “The Chief Mate asked me to help translate once they determined the men were Cuban. Upon boarding the vessel, I questioned the men to make sure they did not have any weapons, and asked if they were looking for help. They responded that they were in need of help, and that they had been out at sea for nine days.”
Clotter added, “The steward department gathered some fruit and water for them, and then my wife, who was working on another ship at the time, suggested that I offer to give them some spare clothes to change into, once I shared the news with her. So I did just that – I gave them pants and shirts, and also asked the rest of the crew to join in as well, if they had anything to spare.”
The captain agreed, saying, “Chief Cook Jose Clotter, GVA Ricardo Escorcia and OMU Javier Murillo Solorzano did a fantastic job of translating so the crew could better help and provide comfort for the migrants. Additional engine room personnel who provided assistance in the engine control room and on deck included OMUs Damir Josipovic and Jose Smith.”
He concluded his report: “The vessel proceeded towards Key West to rendezvous with USCG Cutter Vigorous. QMED Mathews helped the men all properly don their lifejackets in preparation for the transfer to the cutter. At 1254 local time, the cutter launched a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and the seven migrants boarded via the accommodation ladder at 1312 local time.”