Friday, January 26, 2007

Cuban migrants land on Key West naval property

Posted on Fri, Jan. 26, 2007

Cuban migrants land on Key West naval property
A Navy commander in Key West discovered 15 Cuban migrants in his yard
this week.

KEY WEST - The U.S. Navy's new top commander in Key West got up one
morning this week to a front-door taste of life in South Florida: Calmly
sitting in his yard near a hedge were 15 Cuban migrants, fresh off a
crossing of the Florida Straits in a rickety homemade boat.

An off-duty officer, jogging in the predawn darkness, spotted the group
around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and knocked on the front door belonging to
Capt. James R. Brown of the Key West Naval Air Station.

'He said, `Hey, skipper, I need your help,' '' Brown said Thursday. ``I
grabbed my phone and shouted to my wife, Lorie, that we had extra guests
in our front yard. . . . What a sight to behold. Fifteen people were
sitting calmly, sipping the little water they had left.''

Four of the migrants had gone for help and eventually returned to the
group, sitting under a streetlight so they could be found, Brown said.

Under the United States government's ''wet-foot/dry-foot'' policy, the
Cubans -- 12 men, five women and two children -- are almost certain to
be allowed to stay because they reached U.S. soil.

Brown lives on military property at Truman Annex, near the big tourist
buoy that marks the southernmost spot in the continental United States,
only 90 miles from Cuba.

Brown said he cannot discuss the security measures in place around the
Navy's property, although he did say there are markers along the shore
that say: ``Do Not Enter. Military property.''

''But the Cubans land apparently just about anywhere,'' he said, adding
that migrants have previously come ashore on military property in Key
West. ``Statistically, it's going to happen.''

The site of the Cubans' landing this week also is only about a mile from
the Coast Guard base in Key West and even closer to a Virginia-based
Coast Guard cutter that was docked at Truman Annex to unload $57 million
of cocaine seized from a Honduras fishing vessel.


Although the Key West Coast Guard station is without eight 123-foot
patrol boats that were dry-docked indefinitely last month to fix
structural problems, there is still a ''robust and aggressive'' presence
in the Florida Straits, said Coast Guard spokesman Chris O'Neil.

'We're out there, but it's a big ocean and you can't throw a wall around
the maritime border and seal it off and say `We have 100 percent
protection,' '' O'Neil said. 'It's not achievable.' ''

Coast Guard Capt. Scott A. Buschman, the Key West area commander, said
he is getting needed resources from other areas of the Coast Guard to
make up for the loss of the patrol boats.

He said the Coast Guard also will soon implement a plan called
''multi-crewing,'' in which 110-foot patrol boats will be operated about
twice as many hours on the seas -- using two crews and a revamped
maintenance plan.


Shortly after he took command in Key West in July, Brown said, he
reviewed a number of contingency plans. Among them was this: ``Let's
pretend I wake up one morning and find extra guests in my yard. What do
we do?''

The plan worked well Wednesday, Brown said, with teams from the Navy's
base security and the Key West police and fire departments responding.
Brown said his first concern was for the health of the migrants,
especially two very young children.

Brown said all seemed fine ``but appeared very thankful they were out of
that rocky boat.''

The migrants were given food, and the children also got stuffed animals.
They all were taken to the Monroe County Detention Center, where they
were processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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