Royal Bahamas Defence Force Officers apprehended 44 Cuban migrants in the waters off Elbow Cay, Abaco. Out of that number, there were 38 men and six women. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
OVER 40 Cubans were apprehended by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in conjunction with the US Coast Guard in the Cay Sal Bank over the last 48 hours, with three persons reported to have attempted to evade capture.
A total of 44 Cubans - six women and 38 men - were apprehended by RBDF personnel on three landmasses located in the Cay Sal Bank as of Tuesday, according to RBDF Senior Lieutenant Clinton Johnson.
Of that number, 12 were turned over to RBDF officials aboard HMBS Leon Livingstone Smith after being apprehended by US Coast Guard Cutter Robert Yered, which was also on patrol in the Cay Sal Bank area.
A subsequent search of the nearby Anguilla Cays by RBDF marines resulted in the discovery of an additional eight Cuban nationals, he said.
Sr Lt Johnson said upon arrival to nearby Elbow Cay, RBDF officials encountered an additional 24 Cuban nationals, who were subsequently apprehended “without incident”.
However, Sr Lt Johnson said as RBDF marines conducted a search of the cay, three persons “tried to escape on the same raft they came there on”.
“So we had to actually send the sea boat out to bring that (raft) back, but it was only three persons on board,” he said, adding that those three persons did not put up a fight once apprehended.
“The person who was identified as the captain was one of the person who was captured on the cay, but obviously we have an interest in the person who took out the small sea boat as well, because obviously he had some idea of where he was going,” he added. “So it’s a possibility you may have had two persons there who may have had some sort of nautical knowledge, or some knowledge of the ocean.”
Sr Lt Johnson said, notwithstanding Monday’s successful apprehension exercise, the RBDF continues to face challenges in preventing illegal immigration due to the country’s archipelagic nature, and the constant wave of illegal migrants.
“The challenges we face is that there’s a lot of real estate that we have to cover, and we have limited resources but we try to utilise it the best,” he said. “We have threats basically on both borders. We have Haitians coming up from the south, we have Cubans moving in basically from the eastern side, so to cover that amount of real estate with the vessels we have, is a constant challenge.
“So basically we’re pulled in a lot of different directions trying to deal with the various different tasks the defence force has,” he added. “But basically with the resources we have right now, with the new ships we have, it’s actually helped us to cover the ground a lot better than we have before.”
In late December 2016, 19 Cubans were brought to Freeport, Grand Bahama after the US Coast Guard intercepted the migrants in the Cay Sal Bank area.
In November of last year, 21 Cuban migrants - 16 men, four women and one child, were taken to Grand Bahama after a go-fast vessel was intercepted by the US Coast Guard in Bahamian waters. An American, of Cuban descent, who was operating the speedboat, was taken into custody by US Coast Guard officials and returned to the US to face charges of attempted human smuggling.
On Thursday, August 19, 2016 some 43 Cuban nationals were sent to Havana, Cuba, via Bahamasair charter after illegally entering the Bahamas. Senior immigration officials said at the time that “another 40 to 60” would be sent out within a week of that repatriation exercise.
In July, 54 Cuban migrants were taken into custody by Immigration officials in Grand Bahama in three separate incidents over three days in one week.
Then in late June of last year, 14 Cuban migrants were turned over to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre after being apprehended by RBDF officials.
Immigration Director William Pratt told the press last year that the upswing in illegal Cuban migration may be to Cuban’s seeking to reach the United States before that country does away with its “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, a unique policy that favours Cuban migrants.
According to international reports, Cubans fear that the policy, which essentially allows any Cuban who makes it to US soil to stay and apply for legal permanent resident status and US citizenship, may be eliminated due to the improved relations between the US and Cuba.