Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cuban rafters encountered off the Florida Keys

Cuban rafters encountered off the Florida Keys

The cruise ship Carnival Valor was returning to the Port of Miami after
a tour of Mexico, Central America and Jamaica when passengers spotted
something unusual in the ocean off the Florida Keys.

It was a small group of Cuban rafters hoping to reach the United States.

Angela C. Cortes Martinez, a Broward real estate salesperson,
witnessed the episode in mid-June and took pictures of the rafters. The
picture here is one of many she snapped that day as a passenger on the
cruise ship.

Petty Officer Barry Bena, a Coast Guard spokesman, and Vance
Gulliksen, a Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman, verified Cortes Martinez's
account. Bena said the group was spotted about 24 miles south of Big
Pine Key.

The encounter with the rafters unfolded around 11 am. Six men and
one woman, the men in their 40s and the woman in her 30s, were seen
waving at the cruise ship.

As the ship approached, passengers heard the rafters shouting for
water and food.

Once the ship came alongside the makeshift raft, some passengers
began throwing bottles of water – but cruise ship crewmembers put a stop
to that, she said.

Eventually, Cortes Martinez said, the Carnival Valor stopped near
the rafters' rustic vessel and the crew directly supplied the rafters
with a bag of food and water bottles.

Then the Coast Guard was summoned and after several hours a small
rescue vessel showed up and picked up the rafters.

"Passengers thought the rafters would be picked up and brought to
Miami,'' said Cortes Martinez.

Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, undocumented Cuban rafters found
at sea are generally returned to the island while those who reach shore
are allowed to stay. Bena said the seven rafters were repatriated.

Cortes Martinez now feels that the policy should be amended to allow
rafters who "get close to shore'' to stay.

"We have freedom and take it for granted,'' she said. "We should
appreciate our freedoms.''

-- Alfonso Chardy

June 27, 2008

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