The following report was submitted by Captain Thomas Liebsch, the Master of the American Phoenix, a Seabulk-operated tanker, on December 2.
AMERICAN PHOENIX Rescues Seven Cuban Migrants in Straits of Florida
At 0742 LT on November 22nd, while the AMERICAN PHOENIX was transiting from Port Everglades to SW Pass, the 2nd Mate and lookout, AB Andrew Graham, spotted a small object approx. 3.5 nautical miles from the vessel. Upon further inspection, they could see a raft with men onboard waving their arms and a flag.
The 2nd Mate contacted the Master and, with AB James Riley at the helm, the vessel deviated to investigate. At the time of the sighting, the AMERICAN PHOENIX was approx. 45 nm WSW of Key West. The makeshift craft, poorly constructed of plywood and Styrofoam and with an open bottom, had seven Cuban migrants onboard. Steady ENE’ly winds had created a strong westerly current, and the raft was drifting to the west at approximately 1.5 knots.
The 2nd Mate contacted USCG Sector Key West who initially requested that the AMERICAN PHOENIX remain in the vicinity of the raft. At 0828 LT, 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 LT.
The migrants reported that they had been at sea for nine days, making the transit across the Straits using homemade paddles. Upon boarding, it was evident that the 7 men were weak and dehydrated. The GVA, Ricardo Escorcia, quickly provided them with water, Gatorade, and granola bars until the Chief Cook, Jose Clotter, and Steward, John Greubel were able to prepare them lunch. Many crew members also donated clean clothing and shoes to the migrants so they could change out of their soaked and tattered clothing. 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.
The vessel proceeded towards Key West to rendezvous with USCG Cutter VIGOROUS. QMED Benjamin Mathews helped the men all properly don their lifejackets in preparation for the transfer to the cutter. At 1254 LT, the cutter launched a RIB and the seven migrants boarded via the accommodation ladder at 1312 LT.
Additional Engine Room personnel who provided assistance in the Engine Control Room and on Deck included OMUs Damir Josipovic and Jose Smith.
Editors Note: Chief Cook Jose Clotter has also provided his account of the rescue, and his quotes are below.
“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 9 days on a floating makeshift boat.”
He said, “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.”
# # #