HAVANA – Cuban security forces arrested the men who hijacked a passenger ferry in a bid to get to the United States and rescued the nearly 50 hostages held on board, the government said Friday.
The rescue operation was carried out Thursday afternoon, said a communique read on state television. International journalists near the scene of negotiations at the Mariel port west of Havana noticed a large military presence in the area at that time.
"All of those who were on the boat were safely rescued without a shot or even a scratch," the government statement said.
The special forces team moved in to arrest the hijackers — said to be armed with pistols and knives — and secure the ferry after hostages took cues from the officers and started jumping overboard, the statement said.
Once troops took control of the boat, military divers waiting nearby helped those hostages swim to safety.
The hijackers also jumped overboard but they were captured by authorities and taken away in a boat.
The government warned earlier Thursday it would use force if necessary, but Friday's statement said "it was not necessary to any of the other variants considered."
The government statement omitted many details, including how many suspects were arrested and how many hostages were freed.
The government previously said about 50 people were aboard the boat — the Baragua — when it was hijacked early Wednesday in Havana Bay and the hijackers later freed three adult hostages, who were ill.
Cuban authorities escorted the ferry to Mariel on Wednesday after a 30-mile chase into international waters. The hijackers demanded enough fuel to reach the United States, officials said.
The identities and fates of the suspects was not addressed in the government's Friday statement.
Earlier Friday, the government said it would broadcast an evening program on the hijackings of the boat and a Cuban Airlines jet earlier this week. The plane landed Tuesday in Key West, Fla., and the hijacker was arrested. No other details on the program were released.