Fifteen men and one woman travelled three days by boat from Cuba
A boat carrying 16 Cubans arrived in Grand Cayman Monday morning and spent several hours moored off two sites before continuing on their journey.
This was the first time since 2009 that Cuban refugees have been spotted in local waters.
The passengers, 15 men and one woman, refused to come ashore, apparently knowing that if they did so, they were likely to be detained by immigration officers and repatriated to Cuba.
Immigration officers and Marine Police escorted the crowded boat to 12 Mile Banks after the Cubans said they wanted to continue, saying they had 20 gallons of fuel on board.
A local resident alerted authorities on Monday morning after the boat was moored to a buoy in front of his house at Prospect Point around 8.10am.
Police and Immigration officers on a Marine Police vessel went to speak with the Cubans, who had been at sea for three days, and persuaded them to follow them to another location after the passengers apparently informed them they were low on fuel. Originally the boats’ destination was Red Bay Dock at South Sound but water conditions led to a change of plan and the boats made for Jackson Point instead.
As they neared the jetty, the Cubans moored their 21-foot-long boat to a buoy. “They don’t want to come in,” said Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, who along with other immigration officers and police officers waited at the jetty at Jackson Point to see what the Cubans would choose to do.
Cayman’s official policy on refugees is not to offer fuel or food or other assistance. “We cannot facilitate illegal migration,” said Ms Evans.
A detention centre that has previously housed Cuban refugees has been empty since 2008 and is in disrepair. If the Cubans had been detained, it was likely they would have had to be accommodated in a community centre, Ms Evans said.
The Cuban boat also stopped off at Cayman Brac on its journey. Ms Evans said the boat was seen in the Brac at 8.35am Sunday and left three hours later. “They did not want any assistance,” she said.
She added that the passengers said they had left Cuba on Friday morning.
The last time Cuban refugees landed in Cayman was in October 2009 when two fishermen came ashore, the chief immigration officer said. One was repatriated and the other is seeking asylum in an ongoing case, Ms Evans said. Prior to that, the last incidents of Cubans coming ashore or being detained in Cayman was in 2008.
“We asked them yesterday why we had not seen so much of them lately. They said basically that the government had clamped down on security of all its borders and stepped up penalties for trying to land [overseas],” said Ms Evans.
It is believed that the Cubans were heading for Honduras.