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17 Cuban Migrants Left Abandoned on an Island

The Nation

Bahamas: Group headed for the U.S. was stranded by smugglers with little food or water, Coast Guard says. All are said to be in good health.

August 31, 2002|From Reuters

MIAMI — Smugglers abandoned 17 Cuban migrants, including two children, on a remote Bahamian island with little food and water, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday.

The Cubans were rescued from Cay Sal, an uninhabited island in the Florida Straits about 60 miles north of Cuba, by a Coast Guard cutter Tuesday after they were spotted by an air patrol.

They were in good health although they had run out of food and water, a Coast Guard statement said.

The migrants--12 men, three women and two children--said they left Cuba on a 30-foot vessel Aug. 22. A smuggler dropped them off on Cay Sal and said he would come back after refueling. He never returned.

"Abandoning these migrants with little food or water and leaving them is a grossly inhumane act," Coast Guard Lt. Tony Russell said. "Smugglers have no regard for the well-being of their human cargo, only their own financial gain."

The rescued Cubans were taken to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. Summer weather has brought an increase in attempts by Cubans to leave their Communist-ruled homeland, although numbers are far fewer than in recent years. According to the latest Coast Guard figures, 427 Cubans have been intercepted at sea since May, compared with 1,650 between May and August 2001.

At least one recent attempt ended in tragedy.

A boat carrying as many as 25 migrants that left Bahia Honda, Cuba, on Aug. 18 disappeared. Four bodies believed to be those of passengers were found off the Florida coast this week.

Six migrants in two boats were intercepted just a mile off the Florida coast near Lake Worth on Thursday, the Coast Guard said. Three suspected smugglers were arrested.

Cubans trying to reach the United States have increasingly turned to smugglers in recent years, paying $1,000 or more for the voyage.

Coast Guard Capt. Wayne Justice said the smugglers were becoming more reckless, overloading boats and setting out with disregard for sea and weather conditions.

Forty-three would-be migrants were repatriated by the Coast Guard on Friday to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba. They were picked up in seven recent incidents. Nearly all had set out on rafts.

Cuban migrants reaching American shores are permitted to stay in the country, but those who are intercepted at sea are usually shipped home.

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