August 24, 2005

U.S. ends search for 31 missing Cuban migrants

MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard gave up a search on
Wednesday for 31 Cuban migrants missing at sea for over a week
since their overcrowded speedboat capsized between Cuba and

Coast Guard aircraft and vessels had searched more than
10,000 square miles of ocean -- an area about the size of
Massachusetts -- for survivors of the shipwreck since three
people were rescued on Sunday by the crew of a merchant ship,
the Antigua-flagged Melfi Habana.

Badly sunburned and dehydrated but kept afloat by life
jackets, they said they had been in the water since the
accident on August 16. But no other survivors, or bodies were
found, the Coast Guard said.

"Trying to illegally enter the United States from the
maritime domain is inherently dangerous and threatens the lives
of all involved," said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris

Under immigration accords between the United States and
Cuba, Cuban migrants stopped at sea are generally taken home.
But undocumented Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually
allowed to stay.

Cuba says that policy encourages migrants to attempt the
dangerous voyage in overcrowded or unseaworthy ships. The U.S.
Coast Guard said 200 people had died at sea trying to get to
the United States illegally in the last five years.

The Coast Guard has intercepted an increasing number of
Cuban migrants at sea this year, though far from the highs of
the 1994 raft crisis when more than 30,000 attempted the sea

Coast Guard crews halted 2,366 Cubans at sea since the
start of the fiscal year on October 1, up from 1,225 last year
and the biggest number since 1994.