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Cuban Migrants Who Set Off To Find Freedom in America Died Tragically On The Way Here

cuban boat

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The journey that ended in tragedy began July 9 in Sint Maarten, a Caribbean island whose control is shared by France and the Netherlands.

On board were 19 people including 15 Cubans, one Colombian, one Dominican and two residents of St. Maarten.

They were headed to St. Thomas, a distance of about 122 miles. They never arrived.

The boat capsized sometime between July 9 and 11 somewhere between St. Maarten and the British Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

It is not known precisely what caused the boat to capsize, whether it was overloaded or if it encountered bad weather.

What is clear is that four survivors — two Cubans and the two St. Maarten residents — were rescued July 11 by a passing boat that took them to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

It was the survivors who spoke of the missing people. A major search ensued involving U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, as well as assets from other countries. The search ended unsuccessfully July 16.

At one point, searchers found four life jackets in the water, but the Coast Guard said it is not sure if they came from the capsized boat.

Ricardo Castrodad, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said he had no breakdown on whether there were women and children among the 15 missing people.

Meanwhile, searchers from British Virgin Islands were still finding “body parts” this week on the outlying islands from the main island of Tortola, according to

“Body parts were recovered on Peter Island [in the British Virgin Islands] on Friday and are being processed by RVIPF and the BVIHSA,” the Tortola-based online newspaper said. “Additional body parts were also recovered on Monday afternoon. RVIPF has not located the capsized vessel and has not established clearly the number of persons aboard. Identification was recovered for five persons.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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