Boat carrying 17 Cubans runs aground in Cayman Islands

Seventeen Cubans fleeing their country were detained in the Cayman Islands after their wooden sailboat ran aground in the Caribbean territory, according to a Cayman government announcement.

The interception was the fifth such incident this year in the Cayman Islands, compared to none in 2010, and appeared to affirm reports indicating an increase in the number of Cubans trying to leave their island illegally in recent months.

A British-run international banking center 125 miles south of Cuba, the Caymans lie close to the route that Cubans leaving from their southern coast would take in hopes that the currents and winds would take them to Central America or Mexico. They would then travel by land to the U.S. border.

A Cayman government announcement Tuesday said immigration officials detained the 16 men and one woman after their boat ran aground near the island of Cayman Brac. A photo of their boat showed it was a small wooden sailboat.

It added that the refugees were in good health and will be transferred to the archipelago’s main island, Grand Cayman, for processing — most likely meaning they will be returned to Cuba.

The last arrival of Cubans came in October, when a boat carrying 19 men went aground in the Cayman’s territorial waters. The men were detained by immigration officials.

Until 2005, the Cayman’s policy allowed territorial officials and residents to help Cuban boatpeople continue their voyages by providing them with water, gas and food and even fixing their motors and sails.

But under the new policy, officials must seize the boats and detain the Cubans if the vessels are not seaworthy. The Cubans can apply for political asylum in the Cayman Islands, but most are repatriated to their country.

Cuban migrants in seaworthy boats can continue their trips, without any assistance, or voluntarily go ashore and face deportation back to Cuba.

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