GEORGE TOWN Cayman Islands (Reuters) - Sixteen Cuban migrants who sought refuge in Grand Cayman have resumed their voyage in a small, homemade aluminum boat after local officials turned them away, citing a migration agreement with Cuba.
The 20-foot (6-meter) boat, a patchwork of fiberglass and metal with large inner tubes attached to makeshift outriggers, left on Thursday night, headed for Honduras, about 400 miles (644 km) away.
They were last seen being trailed by a police boat and helicopter about five miles (8 km) off Grand Cayman, drifting west in five foot (1.5 meter) waves with a squall approaching.
Boats smuggling Cubans who are seeking to flee the communist-run island are frequently seen off the Cayman Islands, located in the Caribbean less than 100 miles (160 km) south of Cuba.
They are usually headed for Honduras from where migrants make the long journey overland to reach the U.S. border with Mexico. Under the U.S. so-called “wet foot, dry foot policy,” Cuban migrants who make it onto United States soil are allowed to remain while those intercepted at sea are turned back.
The U.S. Border Patrol said in late July that more than 13,500 Cubans without proper travel documents had tried to cross the southwestern U.S. border since Oct. 1, 2013, more than during all of the previous 12 months. Four years ago, the 12-month total was about 5,500.
“We left (Cuba) because there are no jobs or the basic items for living,” said the boat captain, who was briefly interviewed close to shore before the boat departed.
The captain, who identified himself as Angelo, said the passengers, 11 men and five women aged 18 to 40, were from Manzanillo in eastern Cuba.
He said the boat had been at sea for five days since leaving eastern Cuba, surviving rough seas whipped up by the passage of hurricane Cristobal to the east. The boat had no shade from the blazing summer heat, and the group appeared to have run out of water.
Under a 1999 migration accord with Havana, Cuban boats are allowed to pass through Cayman waters as long as they do not seek any assistance. If the migrants come ashore, they are taken into custody and usually repatriated to Cuba.
Cayman immigration officials estimate about 244 Cuban migrants have passed through its waters so far in 2014, while 76 were repatriated.
Editing by David Adams and Ken Wills