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13 Cuban migrants detained in Bahamas

Posted on Wednesday, 12.18.13

13 Cuban migrants detained in Bahamas
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

Thirteen Cubans who left the island aboard a stolen fishing vessel were
intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and turned over to Bahamas
authorities for likely deportation to Cuba, according to Coast Guard and
other reports.

Coast Guard spokesperson Marilyn Fajardo said the cutter Richard
Etheridge intercepted the 48-foot vessel, known as a “ferrocemento”
because of its steel and concrete hull, Friday in Bahamian territorial
waters.

The Royal Bahamian Defense Force confirmed 13 Cuban migrants were being
held in New Providence Island but gave no further details, according to
the Nassau Guardian newspaper.

The boat left at dawn Friday from Puerto Padre on Cuba’s northeastern
coast, after two of its regular crewmen tied up guards at the local
fishing cooperative, according to a local independent journalist,
Alberto Méndez Castelló.

State Security officials told cooperative members after the ship’s
seizure that Cuban authorities had reported the theft to the U.S. Coast
Guard, which then intercepted the ship on Saturday, Méndez reported to
the Miami-based Radio/TV Martí.

Cooperative members were also told that the Cuban migrants would be
returned to the island, and that a crew would be sent soon to the
Bahamas to return the vessel to Puerto Padre, Méndez told the U.S.
government broadcaster.

The 13 could face charges of stealing the vessel as well as
intimidating, disarming, and tying up the guards, according to the
journalist. He said those charges bring prison terms of three to eight
years.

Police have taken control of the cooperative. The guards, the rest of
the ship’s crew, and the directors of the cooperative have been fired,
Méndez reported. The dismissals hint at possible collusion in the theft
of the vessel in the municipality of 94,000 people.

The journalist told the Miami-based U.S. government broadcaster that the
passengers apparently included people from Puerto Padre, 440 miles
southeast of Havana, as well as other parts of the island.

Fajardo said the U.S. Coast Guard has an agreement with the Bahamas that
allows Nassau to make the decision on what to do with vessels
intercepted in territorial waters. Nassau in turn has an agreement with
Havana to return intercepted Cuban migrants who are not granted refugee
status.

Bahamian officials have been investigating reports of severe guard
abuses of Cuban, Haitian, and other undocumented migrants at the
Carmichael Road migrant detention center in Nassau.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 1,357 Cuban migrants at sea in the
one-year period that ended Sept. 30, a slight rise from the 1,275
intercepted in the previous 12-month period, according to official figures.

The vast majority of those intercepted at sea were returned to Havana
under Washington’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy. Another 359 reached U.S.
shores in the latest one-year period and were allowed to stay.

There have been sporadic reports of increased corruption among
government officials in charge of stopping illegal departures, such as
port officials and Frontier Guards, equivalent to the U.S. Coast Guard.

In 1999, a rowdy crowd of about 1,000 Puerto Padre residents gathered at
the harbor to witness a standoff between security forces and a dozen men
and women who tried to escape but anchored in the bay to try to fix the
motor of their 21-foot boat.

Some of the onlookers chanted “Freedom” and others used small boats to
deliver food and water to the occupants of the stranded vessel,
according to Miami Herald reports at the time. The occupants were
eventually detained.

Méndez reported that the ship, which was stolen Friday, was the last
remaining vessel operated by the Puerto Padre cooperative, which
supplies the local market, and already had been provisioned for a
fishing trip. The vessel usually goes out about twice per month.

He added that several residents of Puerto Padre commented over the
weekend that the theft might leave the town with fewer fish than before
but wished a safe arrival to the 13.

Source: “13 Cuban migrants detained in Bahamas – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com”
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http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/18/3826667/13-cuban-migrants-detained-in.html

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