A radio call from a sailboat led to the rescue of 15 Cuban migrants 4 miles off South West Point, George Town, according to police.
The migrants, four women and 11 men, were part of a group of 64 people traveling on two boats that had stopped on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman over the weekend.
Police say a sailboat traveling to Panama saw the makeshift wooden boat flying a white flag while people bailed water from the vessel, and alerted the Port Authority. The police marine unit reached the sinking boat within 25 minutes and the migrants abandoned the boat.
Officers took them to shore to join the rest of the group in detention on Grand Cayman.
Police marine commander Inspector Leo Anglin said in a press release, “We believe that the coordination of first responders with the public in this instance helped avert a water tragedy.”
David Bridgeman saw the boat in East End. He said it got stuck on the reef and was towed to the dock at Morritt’s resort “where they made some repairs to the rudder and tried to repair a leak.” Speaking with the migrants through an interpreter, Mr. Bridgeman said they planned to sail to Honduras.
“I couldn’t see how their boat was going to make it to Honduras,” he said.
Cuban migrants regularly sail south from Cuba in hopes of landing in Honduras to travel by land north to the United States. The number of Cuban migrants taking the risky voyages either north to Florida or south to Central America is increasing as Cubans worry about improving relations with the U.S. and the potential end of the “wet-foot dry-foot” policy that gives them a fast track to a U.S. green card.
Wesley Howell, deputy chief officer for security and public safety with the Ministry of Home Affairs, said all of the migrants will be repatriated to Cuba.
“While we note the public’s desire to aid the onward journey of the migrants by sea for humanitarian reasons, we urge the public not to assist these dangerous journeys and to be mindful that the migrants face the risk of horrible death at sea because of the state of their vessels and lack of safety equipment,” Mr. Howell wrote in an email.
“In 2014 the U.N. estimated 73 casualties/missing migrants in the Caribbean area,” he wrote.
According to Mr. Howell, last year set the 10-year record for Cuban arrivals in the Cayman Islands, with 226 migrants making landfall.