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Coast Guard rams boat filled with Haitians

boat

Another wave of 'boat people'?

November 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:32 p.m. EST (0432 GMT)

HOMESTEAD, Florida (CNN) -- A U.S. Coast Guard cutter rammed a wooden boat overloaded with more than 200 Haitian refugees off the Florida coast Thursday, and then joined other Coast Guard vessels in chasing down the rickety boat when it made a run for it.

Immigration officials boarded the converted fishing boat and began transferring the Haitians to the Coast Guard cutter Confidence, which probably will be used to take them back to their country.

The white-hulled boat was first detected before dawn when crew members aboard the 600-foot container ship Seaboard Caribe spotted flares in the pre-dawn darkness off Elliott Key, just north of Key Largo.

Coast Guard intercepts boatload of Haitians.
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The Coast Guard dispatched two cutters and two smaller rescue boats to the scene. When the cutters approached, the boat started toward shore.

"We thought it was out of gas," Petty Officer Scott Carr of the U.S. Coast Guard said. "But it wasn't. They started up their engines and started heading toward the port of Miami. They took off like a rocket."

The Coast Guard Cutter "Maui" tried to stop the vessel by using a technique called "shouldering," which involves pulling alongside the vessel and bumping up against it.

Another wave of 'boat people?'

The maneuver tore away some of the railing, and chased some of the 60 or 80 people on deck to the other side, but it did not stop the boat.

When the boat was finally surrounded, a boarding party from the Coast Guard and the Immigration and Naturalization Service checked to see if anyone needed medical attention and handed out life jackets.

The refugees will be kept aboard the Confident for the two days it is expected to take the INS to interview them. A Coast Guard spokesman said they probably will be returned to Haiti.

The boat's presence in U.S. waters raises questions as to whether a new waves of refugees might be preparing to flee Haiti.

On November 30, a 300-member United Nations Peacekeeping Force -- 250 civilian police and 50 soldiers -- is due to pull out of Haiti. A decision on whether to withdraw a larger U.S. Peacekeeping Force -- numbering 400 troops -- is to be made that same day, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Haiti still in chaos

boats

Between 1991 to 1994, tens of thousands of Haitian boat people fled political repression under the military regime that ousted then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The pace dropped sharply after he returned to power, but Haiti remains one of the world's poorest countries.

It has also suffered many years of near-chaos and bitter social strife. Under years of dictatorships, gangsters have had as much say in the day-to-day running of the country as the government.

And even as the peacekeepers begin to leave there are reports that a newly trained police force lacks leadership and is insufficiently equipped to contend with the island nation's crime.

Correspondent John Zarrella contributed to this report.

 
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