Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas has set sail from Haifa to Cyprus, evacuating American citizens from Israel amidst the ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

In a co-ordinated effort, the US Embassy in Israel informed US residents that they could board the cruise ship on a first-come, first-serve basis, beginning at 8am local time on Tuesday.

The decision to use the cruise ship to evacuate American citizens came after the surprise attack by Hamas militants on October 7, which left 27 US citizens dead and 14 others unaccounted for, some thought to be among the nearly 200 people kidnapped by Hamas.

Subsequent reprisals by Israel and the bombing of targets in Gaza has further escalated the conflict, leaving thousands dead or injured in the escalating Middle East conflict.   

Major cruise lines have all cancelled Israel as a port of call, with some extending the ban to Egypt.

Royal Caribbean Group, in response to the US Department of State’s request for assistance, offered the Rhapsody of the Seas for the operation. The ship, with a capacity of 2416 passengers, was chosen after scheduled cruises from Haifa were cancelled as a result of the escalating conflict in the region.

“Royal Caribbean Group is actively supporting the US Department of State in the assisted departure of American citizens,” the cruise company stated in a press release.

The voyage was organised with a passage to Limassol Port in Cyprus, expected to take around 10-12 hours. 

US consular staff were available both on the ship and at Limassol to offer assistance and information on further travel arrangements.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty said Rhapsody of the Seas provided free passage, including accommodation and meals, to the US citizens.