Amid the raging war between Israel and Hamas, a cruise ship by Royal Caribbean International unexpectedly emerged as a shining symbol of hope. Back on Monday, their boat, famously known as Rhapsody of the Seas, played a big part in evacuating U.S citizens from Israel. By doing so, it added great value to the mission of getting Americans out of harm’s way.
Rhapsody of the Seas’ Quick Pivot
Originally slated for a five-day round trip cruise to Cyprus and the Greek Isles from its base in Haifa, the vessel swiftly changed course due to escalating hostilities. The decision was made after multiple cruise lines opted to alter their itineraries in light of the conflict, with some even suspending their stops in Israel entirely. Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, communicated to employees about the efforts of Rhapsody of the Seas. “With enhanced safety precautions in place, our ship is providing free passage, inclusive of accommodation and food, for Americans in the region seeking safer ground,” he wrote in an email that was subsequently shared with USA TODAY.
- The evacuation process was conducted collaboratively with the U.S. State Department.
- Boarding commenced at 8:00 a.m. local time on Monday.
- The ship traveled from Haifa, Israel, to Limassol, Cyprus.
- Rhapsody of the Seas has the capacity to accommodate over 2,400 passengers.
- Eligibility for boarding requires a valid passport and the traveler to either be a U.S. national or an immediate family member of a U.S. national.
- The U.S. Embassy highlighted that travelers would need to manage their subsequent accommodations and travel from Cyprus, with chartered flights also being arranged.
Arrival in Cyprus and Next Steps
Upon docking at Limassol on Tuesday, the Rhapsody of the Seas was greeted by the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, Julie Fisher. Passengers were duly processed by Cypriot officials and U.S. embassy representatives and were then transported to temporary accommodations.
Among those aboard was Naama Kopelman, who expressed her relief upon reaching safety: “No alarms, no sounds of the planes overhead constantly.” The conflict has been particularly harrowing for Kopelman as she has relatives believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas. Another passenger, Barbara Zwillick, spoke about her granddaughter, whom she was escorting to New York City on her daughter’s behalf.
A Gravely Altered Landscape
The battle lines drawn between Israel and Hamas have birthed a whirlwind of devastation, painting a grim picture of loss on both sides. Over a thousand Israeli souls lost their battles, with the count on the Palestinian side significantly higher. In an unexpected act of violence, Hamas militants shocked the world by bringing about the untimely demise of over 1,200 innocent Israelis while capturing around 200 more.
A handful – just a teeny-tiny fraction – of these unfortunate captives happen to be Americans, according to White House reports. The staggering reality is this conflict has cruelly stolen at least 30 lives from American shores, leaving another 15 unaccounted. If you’re doing mental math right now, there are roughly 600 U.S. folks hanging their hats in Gaza as we speak, with a massive half-million American expats calling Israel home.
U.S. Government’s Continued Efforts
The U.S. State Department is making concerted efforts to support American citizens in these troubled times. An advisory against travel to Gaza and suggestions to reconsider visits to Israel and the West Bank have been issued. Furthermore, the department is facilitating chartered flight transportation for Americans wishing to depart from Israel. U.S. Embassy personnel at Ben Gurion International Airport have been actively assisting and directing those looking to leave.
In a recent statement, a State Department spokesperson emphasized the U.S. government’s commitment: “We are working around the clock to ascertain the whereabouts of American citizens and collaborating closely with the Israeli government on all aspects of the hostage situation, including intelligence sharing and dispatching experts from the U.S. to guide the Israeli government in hostage recovery efforts.”
International Response and Further Actions
In the aftermath of this emergency evacuation, several countries and international organizations have stepped up their relief efforts and diplomatic engagement to alleviate the situation in the region.
A Message of Gratitude
In his concluding remarks, Jason Liberty extended his deep appreciation to everyone involved in the evacuation mission, particularly acknowledging the ship’s officers and crew. “This has truly been a remarkable effort, and my heartfelt gratitude goes out to all involved. Their unwavering support during such a monumental crisis epitomizes the call to serve others during times of immense tragedy.”