Wednesday, August 24, 2005

31 Cubans Missing After Shipwreck Off Florida

The U.S. Coast Guard searched on Monday for 31 Cubans reported missing at sea after their boat capsized between Florida and Cuba.
Three survivors were plucked out of the water by the crew of a merchant ship about 30 miles north of Matanzas, Cuba, on Sunday night and told their rescuers their speedboat had overturned with 31 other people aboard, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The survivors were taken ashore in Cuba and Cuban authorities alerted the U.S. Coast Guard. Search crews found a capsized boat in the area on Monday but had not found any more survivors. A Coast Guard spokesman said he did not know whether any passengers had life vests or if the voyage was a migrant smuggling attempt. "We haven't talked to the three who were rescued so everything we're getting is coming from the Cuban government," U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Doss said. Under immigration accords between the United States and Cuba, Cuban migrants stopped at sea are generally taken home. But undocumented Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay, a policy that Cuba says encourages migrants to attempt the dangerous voyage in overloaded or unseaworthy vessels.
The Coast Guard has intercepted an increasing number of Cuban migrants at sea this year, though nothing like what occurred in the 1994 rafter crisis when more than 30,000 tried to make the voyage to Florida. They have halted 2,366 Cubans at sea since the start of the fiscal year on October 1, up from 1,225 last year and the biggest number since 1994.

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