Bishop Tom Burns, Bishop Promoter of the Apostleship of the Sea, recently left Southampton on Friday 05 October for a 17-night cruise to the Mediterranean and Adriatic with his sister and niece when a dramatic incident took place.
Bishop Tom wrote “ A few days into the cruise, the ship the GRAND PRINCESS, came to a dead-stop in Mediterranean waters off the north coast of Africa. The Captain informed us that a small craft had been spotted in the water, crammed with about 25 people, who appeared to be refugees from Algeria. As we approached we could see blue water-containers trailing behind their inflatable boat. These were empty after more than 5 days at sea. The craft had no awning either to shelter the occupants from the burning sun during the day, or to cover them at night to keep them warm and dry.
A bright orange rescue-launch sped away from our ship and brought much needed bottles of water to the men on board. Then, in small numbers the refugees were transferred to the GRAND PRINCESS. I offered assistance if required, but what they were most in need of was medical attention, a shower, a change of clothing, re-hydration and food. After more than 5 days of exposure to the elements, they were not in the best condition. Meanwhile, passengers lined the decks, fully supportive of the frequent updates that the Captain made on the ship’s public broadcast-system. He told us he was trying to establish contact with the Algerian and Spanish authorities. A small patrol-boat belonging to the Algerian Navy appeared about 45 minutes later, and a search and rescue helicopter circled the ship before making off in the direction from which it had come.
In the ship’s sick-bay and crew-quarters, these anxious and desperate men were being gently and professionally cared for, and their future negotiated at international level. It was not clear what official documents any of them carried, and none was likely to want to return home after the ordeal they had been through. They must have been at the end of their tether in the first place to take the action that they did. All have families anxious about them too, and what will happen to them.
After 3 hours of idling in the water, the engines picked up and we headed in the direction of the Algerian coast. The plan was to rendezvous with a larger vessel, to which our “guests” would be transferred, their desire to “escape completely” courtesy of the GRAND PRINCESS seemingly about to come to an end.