Cuban ferry hijackers arrested in raid
HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- A standoff between Cuban troops and the hijackers
of a small ferry
who had tried to sail to Florida ended as soldiers stormed the boat and hostages jumped
overboard to safety.
None of the hostages, about 50 in all, was injured in the operation Friday
at the port of Mariel,
just west of Havana. Authorities took the hijackers to an undisclosed location.
"All of those who were on the boat were safely rescued without a shot or
even a scratch," the
Cuban government said in a statement.
The hijackers commandeered the 45-foot ferry Baragua in Havana Bay on Wednesday
demanded that it sail to the United States.
Cuban authorities chased the boat some 30 miles into international waters.
negotiators flew to a nearby U.S. Coast Guard cutter to offer help to the Cuban government.
Apparently lacking enough fuel for the U.S. journey, the ferry then turned
around and headed
back to Cuban waters off Mariel.
The hijackers demanded fuel for the flat-bottomed ferry and threatened
to harm passengers,
the government said.
Negotiations began between the hijackers and squads of heavily armed Cuban
officials on a
dock near the ferry. At one point, a hijacker held a knife to the throat of a woman on the ferry.
Three ill hostages eventually were released.
The rescue operation began Thursday afternoon with a large military buildup at the port.
The government said a special forces sol dier on the dock persuaded a female
hostage to jump
overboard and she was quickly rescued.
The special forces team then moved in to arrest the hijackers and secure
the ferry as hostages
took cues from the officers and started jumping overboard, the statement said. At least one
hostage reportedly tackled one of the hijackers.
Cuban troops rescued passengers in the water and took control of the vessel,
hijackers -- including some who tried to mix with fleeing passengers in the water.
The government statement omitted many details, including how many suspects were arrested.
There was no mention in Friday's statement of Cuban President Fidel Castro,
who traveled to
Mariel on Thursday to lead the effort to end the standoff.
The vessel was seized a day after a Cuban passenger plane was hijacked
to Key West, Fla.,
by a man who allegedly threatened to blow up the aircraft with two grenades. The grenades
turned out to be fake.
Ten of the Cubans who were aboard the flight have opted to remain in the
United States, while
19 others asked to go home, U.S. officials said.
Another Cuban plane was hijacked to Key West less than two weeks earlier.
The hijackings coincided with a crackdown on dissidents in Cuba and rising
tensions with the
In the past, Cubans have taken advantage of periods of U.S.-Cuban friction
to try to flee the
Several ferries were hijacked to the United States in 1994, when some 35,000
toward Florida in dilapidated boats and rafts. The wave of illegal migrants subsided only after
the United States agreed to send back Cubans picked up at sea.
In a highly unusual move, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason,
warned Cubans on
Wednesday night not to undertake any more hijackings, telling them in a message read on
communist-run television they would be prosecuted and lose the right to seek American
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.