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Cuban Gunboat Crashes Into Flotilla In Cuban Waters

July 13, 1995

MIAMI (AP) _ A Cuban gunboat crashed into the lead boat of an exile flotilla in Cuban waters Thursday and three people were injured, according to witnesses and radio transmissions.

The 30-foot pleasure craft Democracia was rammed on one side as it led 14 other boats from Key West to mark the anniversary of the drowning of 41 Cubans as they fled the island last year.

The extent of the injuries wasn’t immediately known. Odalys Castellanos, whose husband, Mario, was among the injured, said she had been told that the three were hit by shattered glass and other debris aboard the Democracia.

Mrs. Castellanos, who lives in Hialeah, said she was told that the Democracia was taking on water after the crash and all on board were transferred to another boat. The flotilla headed back to Key West after the incident.

``They were going peaceful and they were not going to go barging in or anything. They didn’t have arms ... nothing,″ Mrs. Castellanos said.

Nine of the flotilla boats had crossed into Cuban waters, heading southwest toward Havana, when a tugboat and two Cuban gunboats approached about 10 miles off the Cuban coast, said Jorge Lares, who monitored the flotilla’s progress by radio.

His report was confirmed by a television photographer in a plane hovering overhead.

``It started out peacefully and took a very serious turn,″ said Chris Pontius of WSVN-TV.

The flotilla had planned to go four miles closer to Cuba when the Democracia was rammed, said Brothers to the Rescue, an exile-sponsored search and rescue group that organized the flotilla to mark the anniversary of the July 13, 1994, drownings.

The 41 people, including more than 20 children, drowned when their tugboat sank off the Cuban coast. The Cuban government denied responsibility for the sinking, saying the tug was dilapidated and leaking before it left Cuba.

A State Department official, who refused to give her name or confirm Thursday’s collision, said the U.S. government has recognized the right to protest but ``we have encouraged restraint and have advised the participants of the risks involved.″

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