Posted on Mon, Dec. 05, 2005
Nine Cubans saved from the sea last month by a cruise ship—the latest in a surge of Cuban nationals attempting to reach U.S. soil by sea—were returned Sunday to Cuba.
BY ROBERT L. STEINBACK
Nine of the 10 Cubans rescued in the Florida Straits Nov. 27 by the Celebrity Cruises ocean liner Zenith were returned to Cuba Sunday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Gretchen Eddy would not disclose why the 10th migrant was not returned with the others, or when a decision would be made about the individual’s fate. The refugee was still being held aboard a Coast Guard cutter Sunday evening, Eddy said.
Also on Sunday, 18 Cubans who apparently reached the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix by boat were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents by local police, and will be flown to Miami to be reunited with relatives, according to The Associated Press.
Passengers aboard the Miami-based Zenith, a 682-foot cruise ship carrying about 1,300 guests, spotted a foundering 15-foot boat about 12:45 p.m. a week ago Sunday as the ship passed within sight of the mountains of western Cuba on its way to Cozumel, Mexico. The little boat, outfitted with a canopy and propelled primarily by homemade oars, was in ‘‘obvious distress,’’ the Coast Guard reported last week.
The 10 migrants—seven men, two women and a 7-year-old girl named Jennifer—spent 10 hours aboard the Zenith before being transferred to a Coast Guard cutter, where they remained the rest of the week.
On Sunday, AP said, police in Frederiksted, St. Croix, found 15 Cubans walking along a highway shortly after dawn, local police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Hannah said. Three others turned themselves in at a nearby police station, AP said.
The 10 men, four women and four children were all in good health, Hannah said.
Police think the group was dropped off by a smuggling boat, however, a search offshore turned up no sign of the vessel, ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz said, according to AP.
According to current U.S. policy, Cuban migrants who are interdicted at sea typically are not admitted into the United States, and most are repatriated to Cuba. Those who reach land are generally allowed to stay and later can apply for permanent residence—hence the informal name of the ‘‘wet foot/dry foot’’ policy.
Through Friday, the Coast Guard had interdicted 2,632 Cubans at sea so far this year, the largest annual total since Cuban leader Fidel Castro ordered his nation’s Border Guards not to stop outbound rafters in 1994, launching an exodus during which 37,191 were rescued. This year’s total so far is the third highest since 1982. The annual number of Cubans interdicted has increased every year since 2001.
A total of 2,530 Cubans have successfully reached South Florida during fiscal year 2005, a substantial jump from 955 in fiscal year 2004, 1,072 in fiscal year 2003 and 1,335 in fiscal year 2002, according to U.S. Border Patrol figures.