March 19, 2016 8:08 pm

9 Cuban migrants dead, 18 rescued off Florida coast

The cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas is docked in the waters of Cozumel, Mexico, Saturday, March 19, 2016. According to a U.S Coast Guard news release, "18 reported Cuban migrants were picked up by the Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship west of Marco Island, Florida.

Angel Villegas via AP
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MIAMI – Nine Cuban migrants died at sea and 18 others were rescued by a cruise ship after their 30-foot boat was found about 130 miles from the Florida coast, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The migrants were severely dehydrated when they were found Friday and said they had been at sea 22 days. The bodies of those who didn’t make it were placed overboard, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney. The survivors were in bad condition.

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“They could barely walk off the vessel itself,” Barney said. “They were weak and they were shaking.”

READ MORE: Facebook, cheap smartphones help drive historic Cuban exodus to US

The rescue by the Royal Caribbean ship took place about 130 miles west of Marco Island in southwest Florida. The migrants were in a “rustic” boat that was about 30-feet long, Barney said.

They were found by the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas at about 7 a.m. Friday. The migrants boarded the ship and received food, water and medical treatment, Royal Caribbean said.

The company reported the event to the Coast Guard and made the decision to bring the migrants to its next port of call, Cozumel, Mexico. The cruise had departed Tampa on Thursday.

The rescue comes as President Barack Obama travels to Cuba to meet with President Raul Castro during a 2 1/2-day visit that begins Sunday. The visit is part of Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. While the U.S. has eased travel restrictions to the island Cuba, many Cubans still risk their lives to reach the United States.

READ MORE: Barack Obama opens door widely for Americans to travel to Cuba

“The Coast Guard has observed a steady increase in illegal maritime migration attempts from Cuba to the southeastern U.S. since the U.S. announcement of normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014,” the Coast Guard said in a press release. Last month, 269 Cuban migrants attempted to reach U.S. shores and about 2,420 have tried to reach the United States by sea since last October.

On the same day Royal Caribbean rescued the group it found, the Coast Guard returned 42 other migrants to Cuba after they were picked up in the Florida Straits in two separate incidents earlier in the week.

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