Cruise ship rescues 18 Cuban migrants who say nine others died

File photo of the Royal Caribbean cruise liner "Brilliance of the Seas" seen at sunset in Valletta's Grand Harbour December 14, 2010. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

(Reuters) - A cruise ship off the Florida coast on Friday rescued 18 Cuban migrants who said nine fellow travelers died during their 22-day-long journey, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said the migrants were picked up by Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship west of Marco Island. The survivors were suffering from severe dehydration, and they reported that nine others had already died, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard could not confirm the veracity of the statements. The 18 people would be taken to the cruise ship’s next port of call, in Cozumel, Mexico, the Coast Guard said.

“Our deepest condolences to the families of the nine people who recently did lose their lives,” said Coast Guard Captain Mark Gordon, who heads up enforcement for the Coast Guard 7th District. “Unfortunately, tragedy is all too common when taking to the sea in homemade vessels with no safety or navigation equipment.”

Coast Guard officials also repatriated 42 other migrants to Cuba on Friday, as a result of two interdictions earlier in the week.

The Coast Guard said it has seen a steady increase in illegal immigration attempts to the U.S. southeast from Cuba since diplomatic relations between the two countries were normalized in late 2014.

The rescues come just days ahead of President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Cuba, which will be the first by a sitting U.S. president in 88 years.

Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler