A Kiwi travel writer has told how the cruise ship on which she was travelling lowered food, blankets and a doctor to an inflatable dinghy full of refugees in the Aegean Sea.
Herald contributor Megan Singleton was asleep on board the Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas headed to the Turkish port of Kusadasi, from Greece, when the captain announced an unplanned stop shortly before 6am local time (4pm New Zealand time) yesterday "to give assistance to a vessel".
The vessel was a much smaller boat, filled with 45 refugee women, men and children, floating a kilometre out from the luxury liner, which carries up to 2440 passengers.
Thousands of desperate people have fled war and poverty in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan and braved the risky sea journey to seek sanctuary in Europe. But disasters at sea have claimed the lives of many.
Ms Singleton said it was sobering to see her ship's spotlight shining on the boat, highlighting the divide between the rich travellers and the refugees.
"When you put the two side by side, which is what happened today, [you have] the rich people on the cruise ship alongside the migrants. I've got a photo there of a woman with her croissant, leaning over the side of the ship watching. It was a very sobering experience."
The cost for one of the ship's standard 12.5sq m rooms for a six-day cruise is about $1072 a person. The ship also offers a vitality spa, fitness centre, beauty salon, two pools, six whirlpools, a rock-climbing wall, numerous dining areas, a casino and a showboat lounge.
Another cruise ship also helped light up the sea but soon departed, leaving the Vision of the Seas to assist while waiting for the Turkish coastguard to arrive.
In the interim, ship staff lowered tender boats holding food, water and blankets for the refugees. The ship's doctor boarded the dinghy to offer medical assistance.
Once the coastguard arrived, the refugees were taken on board, leaving the small boat behind.
"The boat in the water looked to be sinking," Ms Singleton said.
"Whether deliberately by coastguard or the reason they needed rescuing, I'm not sure."
It was unclear last night where the refugees had come from, where they had planned to go or where the Turkish coastguard would take them.
A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman, speaking from Australia, said they were unable to provide more information last night.
"It was heartbreaking," Ms Singleton said. "These poor people. You just go, 'What's going to happen to them?' I feel like a tiny minion in a great sea of no solutions."
It's not the first time the ship has stopped to help refugees. In August, it provided food and water to another group of migrants, before putting them on a sturdier boat headed to a nearby Greek island.
Figures from the International Organisation for Migration show that last month, 169 people drowned or went missing in the Aegean Sea - 44 of them children.
The coastguard website indicates 64,928 "irregular migrants" have been detained under a programme to maintain safety and security at sea.
Under maritime law, nation states and ships have an obligation to assist "persons in distress at sea, regardless of their nationality, status, or circumstances in which they were found".