Grounded Cubans continue voyage

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Cuban migrants who came ashore in Grand Cayman after grounding their vessel on a North Side reef, continued their journey on Thursday.

Immigration officials had allowed the Cubans time to effect repairs and wait for improved weather conditions. Lalit Sarine, a Cayman Kai resident, was one of the first people to see the vessel when it hit the reef.

‘We got the binoculars out and sure enough it was not an ordinary boat.’ Mr. Sarine decided the people might be in need of assistance so he called the authorities.

‘There were a few of them in the water and I think what they were doing, I couldn’t see fully, but they were trying to get the boat over the reef, and they got it over and then I found out that they had broken their propeller, so they started drifting, they were not on engine power and they were heading towards Rum Point. That’s what we reported to 911.’

Acting Chief Marine Parks Officer Mark Orr was on the scene shortly after the incident. ‘The initial report was that the vessel had overturned, but marine Officer Carl Edwards, who responded by boat, confirmed that it didn’t go over, it was just listing heavily to one side. They managed to get the boat across the reef themselves and then came in here at the Rum Point Dock.’

At that point members of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service took control of the situation and the Cubans were advised that they could either continue their voyage, if they were able to go on without assistance, or they would face repatriation, as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Cayman Islands and Cuban Government. Mark Orr said, ‘The people have decided to go on, once they have done some repairs to their boat. They did get some minor damage when they crossed the reef.’

While there were some visible signs of leaks to the vessel and several inches of water sloshing around in the bottom of it, none of the migrants appeared to be hurt or injured. The engine was an extraordinary looking contraption, heavily rusted and requiring a hand-crank and an open flame to get it started. ‘It is unbelievable how anybody can travel in the open sea in a boat like that,’ said Lalit Sarine who followed the boat down to the dock. He continued saying, ‘To me it is just mind boggling to look at that kind of boat. I don’t know if I’d even want to go to Stingray City in that. I think it is very courageous and you just have to admire people for what they will do for freedom.’