Suspect Cuban vessel in CI waters

A group of 29 illegal Cubans was transported from Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman in the wee hours of Wednesday.

And as the illegal immigrants were getting situated, immigration officials were keeping an eye on a 40-foot steel vessel in Cayman waters near Little Cayman.

There were men, women and children on board.

‘We are monitoring it. We have serious concerns about it,’ said Deputy Chief Secretary Mr. Donovan Ebanks. ‘It’s not the sort of vessel you could expect Cubans to own themselves.’

Cayman law enforcers believe the vessel, which is rigged with several antennas, could have been hijacked, could belong to a rogue Cuban government official or could be owned by someone smuggling Cubans.

The boat’s movements will continue to be monitored until it either lands on Cayman shores or leaves Cayman waters.

All but four of the 29 Cubans brought to Grand Cayman at 3am Wednesday are being housed at the Breakers Civic Centre.

The two women in the group were taken to Fairbanks Prison because only men are being held at the small Breakers centre.

Two of the men, called key players, are being housed at Northward Prison. They were separated because they caused most of the problems in a Cuban demonstration on the Brac.

All are being detained because they have broken the immigration laws of the Cayman Islands by being here illegally.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said the transfer from the Brac was without problems.

‘This was done very quickly and easily with no resistance from the Cubans,’ he said.

Social Services is making sure the Cubans are comfortable while here, which could be more than 21 days.

‘The public will not have access to the Cubans,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘We saw that was a serious problem in the Brac.’

The Cubans will have access to telephones to call their relatives.

Mr. Ebanks said this latest group of Cubans will be repatriated under the 1999 Memorandum of Understanding between Cayman and Cuba.

None of the Cubans have asked for asylum, he said. Most illegal immigrants from Cuba who arrive in the Cayman Islands don’t want asylum, they merely want to go to Honduras, which is the only Caribbean and Latin American country that does not have an MOU with Cuba.

‘In 1999, Government made it clear it was not prepared to be either a destination for or a power through which Cubans could leave Cuba illegally,’ he said.

That policy has been relaxed in the past few years, especially on the Brac where Cubans have been given provisions, and even boats and motors, to continue on their journeys.

Because of the relaxed atmosphere, more than 300 Cubans arrived in the Cayman Islands last year.

That compares to just more than 100 in 2003 and 66 so far this year.

The policy was re-strengthened earlier this year because there had been so many immigrants in 2004.

‘We cannot and will not be a party to what is effectively illegal immigration of persons,’ Mr. Ebanks said.

In addition to the MOU, the Cayman Islands are also bound by a UN convention that guarantees no one fleeing persecution will be turned away, said Mr. Manderson.

But there is no evidence the latest batch of immigrants, which joined 14 other Cubans already being housed in Cayman’s prisons, have been persecuted, Mr. Manderson said.

‘They’re simply looking for a better way of life and that’s not the way to go about it,’ he said.

Under immigration laws it is illegal for citizens to assist illegal immigrants. Those who violate the law face a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail.