HAVANA, May 25 (Reuters) – A boat carrying 842 Haitian migrants bound for the United States strayed off course and washed ashore along the north coast of Cuba instead, according to Cuban state media reports on Wednesday, leaving island authorities scrambling to provide the group with humanitarian aid.
State broadcaster Telecubanacan showed images of a single large gray ship crowded with Haitians lining the decks from bow to stern, and even on the rooftop, as it swayed in rough, windswept seas.
The boat was found early on Tuesday near Caibarien, state-run media reported, not far from Cayo Santa Maria, a popular vacation destination home to a strip of all-inclusive resort hotels. Several days of stormy weather and thunderstorms forced the boat towards Cuba, the report said.
The migrants had received medical attention and first aid, and were now being housed at a tourist campground, the Red Cross said.
One Haitian family that was on the boat said the captain abandoned them early Tuesday on a separate small boat after taking their cellphones. With the ship listing, they managed to draw the attention of people on Cuba’s coast with a flashlight.
The family had paid $4,000 per person for the journey.
Vast, and often untold, numbers of Haitian migrants have in recent months taken to sea on vessels headed for the United States to escape gang violence and poverty in their home country.
Many stray off course, poorly equipped for the voyage or overwhelmed by weather, and end up landing in the Bahamas, Cuba or elsewhere in the Caribbean Sea.
The Haitian migrants aboard the boat, including more than 150 women and children, were transferred by authorities to a tourist camping area operated by the Cuban government, where they were offered humanitarian aid and medical care, state run media said.
“Cuban authorities are in contact with the government of Haiti to ensure the safe and voluntary return of these people to their country, in accordance with the international agreements on migration,” the report noted.
Cuba is suffering from a migration crisis of its own, ravaged by an economic and social crisis that has led to shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods. Tens of thousands of Cubans have left the island in recent months for the United States. read more