(10:13 a.m. EDT) -- Passengers on Carnival Magic and Facebook followers of John Heald, the ship's superstar cruise director, watched a drama unfold in a choppy Mediterranean last night as the ship's captain, Giovanni Cutugno, responded to a mayday call from a small motor yacht.
Carnival Magic had departed Barcelona on Sunday evening and was en route to Messina, Sicily, when the French skipper of the Jean Michele issued the distress call. The boat had lost engine power and was bouncing dangerously in a heavy swell and strong wind.
Despite the conditions, the French skipper, who was sailing with his son, was unwilling to abandon his boat, so using Magic's bow thrusters (which enable the captain to move the vessel sideways) Captain Cutugno maneuvered the Carnival ship into a position where it could protect the Jean Michele from the worst gusts of wind. At all times the 130,000-ton, 3,690-passenger behemoth kept a powerful spotlight on the tiny boat, which was in danger of capsizing.
At 1 a.m. this morning, Heald posted on his Facebook page from the bridge: "We are now waiting for Spanish coastguard to come and using [Magic] to give her some protection from 10 - 12 foot waves and 40 knots of winds. It's a dangerous time as we can't get to close. We have a rescue boat standing by. ETA of Spanish Coastguard 2 hours from now."
The shuddering of Carnival Magic from the bow thruster, and an announcement from Heald about what was occurring woke a lot of passengers. Heald later posted: "Around 300 guests outside watching and more on balconies - at 2:25am!!!!"
The incident had a happy ending. This morning, Heald reported on Facebook: "The yacht and her father and son crew are safe and sound having been towed to Majorca by Spanish Coastguard. The sun is out and the seas calm and we will be in Messina tomorrow on schedule."
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
--Photo of the rescue appear courtesy of Radu Ursu, senior photographer for Carnival Cruise Lines.