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Cuba Seizes U.S. Boat, State Department Demands Explanation

May 19, 1993

MIAMI (AP) _ The State Department has demanded an explanation from Cuba on charges that a Cuban gunboat intercepted a private U.S. vessel in international water and took its Cuban-American crew prisoner.

″I’ve never seen a case where they pursued from Cuban waters into international waters and then took a boat back. It’s a rare incident,″ Coast Guard spokesman Joe Dye said Tuesday.

Three men from the Miami area, one a recent Cuban refugee apparently trying to rescue his family from the island, were believed to be aboard the 24-foot fishing boat intercepted Saturday about 40 or 50 miles north of Cuba.

The crew of a Coast Guard plane - alerted by a Brothers to the Rescue plane looking for fleeing Cuban rafters - tried to contact the gunboat as it towed the U.S. vessel back to base, but there was no response, Dye said.

The State Department expressed concern about the incident to the Cuban government but wasn’t able to visit the men, an agency official speaking on condition of anonymity said Tuesday. The Cubans said the men were in good health.

Cuban government spokesman Jose Ponce in Washington said the boat was seen in Cuban territorial water ″about to do something illegal,″ and was pursued when it fled. He said he did not have further details.

The three men - who he said were all Cuban citizens - will be held until an investigation is completed, Ponce said.

Dye said the seizure may have been legal under international law.

″If a Cuban law has been broken in Cuban waters, they have the right to pursue them into international waters,″ he said.

Alleging piracy and a violation of international law, U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both R-Fla., on Monday asked Secretary of State Warren Christopher to investigate.

The vessel apparently sailed early Saturday with three men aboard - Rodolfo Gonzalez, 43, and two friends, brothers Nelson and Julio Ferrer Hernandez.

Gonzalez, who was living with an aunt and uncle, had been dreaming of his family’s rescue since escaping from a Cuban prison and arriving in Florida, according to his aunt, Eloisa Rodriguez. ″He said he missed her and the two children,″ she said.

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