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Tugboat Carrying 31 Cuban Refugees Sinks; Missing Reported

July 13, 1994

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A stolen tugboat carrying at least 31 Cuban refugees sank Wednesday as it tried to flee that country’s waters, Cuba’s news agency said. An unspecified number of people were reported missing.

Prensa Latina, in a dispatch monitored here, said the vessel sank in waters about seven miles from the coastal capital of Havana after it was ″seized early in the morning by anti-social elements.″

The dispatch quoted Cuban Rebel Radio as saying 20 men, five women and six children were aboard the tugboat stolen from a shipping dock.

State vessels and border guard troops participated in a rescue effort, Prensa Latina said. It didn’t say how many people were rescued or their condition.

Rebel Radio was quoted by the Mexican news agency Notimex as saying an undetermined number of people were missing. A search continued late Wednesday, the radio said.

In Miami, a private group of pilots, Brothers to the Rescue, said it would send four planes Thursday to search for survivors.

Prensa Latina said the incident was ″fomented and promoted by counterrevolutionary radio stations″ and anti-Castro Cuban groups in Miami.

The dispatch also cast blame for the accident on U.S. immigration policy, which allows Cubans fleeing their country to enter America, 90 miles away across the Florida straits.

Meanwhile, 17 of 21 Cuban refugees denied political asylum in Venezuela were taken to Miami, an exile group said. The other four went to Suriname.

The refugees left Cuba on flimsy wood and rubber tire rafts in early June and were picked up in the Caribbean by two Venezuela-bound cargo ships, said Salvador Romani, president of the Cuban Patriotic Council in Caracas, Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Interior Ministry refused comment. The country is home to about 25,000 Cuban exiles, Romani said.

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