The Washington Post
Friday, April 4, 2003

Cuban Ferry Hijacking Ends With Hostages Unhurt

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA - Armed men who hijacked a Cuban ferry with 50 people on board have surrendered without a shot fired and with no injuries, the Cuban government
said Friday.

The hostage crisis aboard the small boat ended in the port of Mariel west of Havana Thursday afternoon when two women threw themselves overboard and a young
man tackled the only hijacker with a gun and pushed him into the sea, a government statement said.

Other hostages jumped overboard and the remaining eight or so hijackers threw down their knives and leaped into the water, as security forces boarded the craft, it

"All the people on board the boat were rescued and saved without a single shot or scratch," according to the statement read on a Cuban television newscast.

The small ferry, which runs between Havana and suburbs across the bay, was commandeered early Wednesday by a group of men planning to sail for the United
States, 90 miles

to the north. One had a handgun while the others were armed with knives.

But the ferry ran out of fuel in international waters 30 miles offshore and drifted in a storm and high swells that threatened to capsize the flat-bottomed boat.

The high seas hostage drama worsened when the hijackers said they would throw women into the Florida Straits if the boat was not refueled, while U.S. Coast
Guard ships looked on.

Cuban authorities said they persuaded the hijackers on Thursday to allow the ferry to be towed to Mariel, where they continued to demand fuel.

The Cuban government threatened to send in special forces to free the hostages, and negotiators obtained the release of two women and a man in poor health.

President Fidel Castro showed up at Mariel port, 40 miles west of Havana, Thursday to take charge of efforts to resolve the crisis. He spent five hours at the docks
until the hostages were freed.

Castro was expected to speak on television Friday night about the ferry hijacking and the takeover of two airliners in the last two weeks by Cubans trying to leave
his one-party socialist state and reach the United States

On Tuesday, a Cuban airliner with 46 people on board was hijacked to Key West by a Cuban threatening to explode a grenade, which turned out to be fake.
Adelmis Wilson Gonzalez has been charged with air piracy in the case and was denied bond Thursday.

On March 19, six Cubans hijacked a Douglas DC-3 at knifepoint and forced the pilot to fly to Key West with 37 people aboard.

The hijackings come at a time of growing tension between Havana and Washington over increased U.S. support for anti-Castro dissidence on the island. In the past,
Cubans have taken advantage of such a climate to try to leave Cuba's one-party socialist state reach the United States.

Trying to dissuade Cubans from resorting to violence to cross the Florida Straits, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason, read out a rare statement on
Cuban television Wednesday night saying hijackers would be severely punished and ineligible for residence in the United States.

                                            © 2003 Washingtonpost.