Cuba/USA: Ferry hijack - brutal response must be avoided

About 50 people are believed to be aboard the ferry, now drifting in international waters north of the Cuban coast. The hijackers are reportedly demanding extra fuel to continue to the United States, and have threatened to throw passengers overboard, according to Cuban authorities. Cuban border patrol vessels are reportedly following the hijacked boat.

Amnesty International welcomes the Cuban government's statement that it would not 'use measures of force that endanger the lives of the people aboard the vessel.'

In 1994 at least 35 people died in the sinking of the '13 de Marzo' tugboat. According to witness reports the tugboat was rammed by an official vessel. The Cuban authorities denied responsibility for the tugboat's sinking, but the incident has never been fully and impartially investigated, in spite of government commitments to do so.

The recent ferry hijack comes after a spate of similar incidents. On 1 April a passenger plane was hijacked by a Cuban man who claimed to be armed with grenades. On 19 March another plane was hijacked by six Cubans armed with knives. Both planes were diverted to the United States at the insistence of the hijackers.

Cuban authorities had accused the United States of encouraging such acts by failing to punish the perpetrators and by granting legal status to most Cubans who arrive on US soil. In a statement yesterday, the head of the US Interests Section in Havana warned Cubans that they will be punished upon arrival in the US if they have used force to leave Cuba.

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