HAVANA – For the first time since Cuba executed three men who tried to seize a ferry in April, the communist island reported hijacking attempts — one that failed when the gunmen apparently killed each other, and another that may have succeeded.
The government's swift and harsh retribution against the accused hijackers in April — they were tried and executed within days — was apparently aimed at quashing any more attempts, and it sparked international condemnation of the communist state.
On Monday, three men accompanied by a woman and her two sons tried to seize the fishing boat Ferrocemento No. 18 at the port of La Coloma, nearly 100 miles west of Havana (search), officials said Tuesday.
"The objective of the delinquents was to travel to the United States," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the hijackers, armed with a pistol and a knife, overpowered a guard and seized the boat. Unable to get it started, they grabbed a boat skipper to help, but he jumped overboard and escaped.
Other fishermen and officials blocked the boat's path and the three men threatened to kill the woman and her sons, age 17 and 10.
About an hour later, witnesses heard shots and the 17-year-old fled the vessel carrying his injured 10-year-old brother, accompanied by the woman, the ministry said. All were taken to a nearby hospital.
Officials who boarded the vessel an hour later found two men dead and a third who died soon afterward. The shot 10-year-old was expected to survive.
The 17-year-old told police that the kidnappers first shot his brother and then tried to kill him, but the gun misfired. He told them that a shootout among the hijackers ensued, according to the ministry, which also said that the mother apparently had conspired with the kidnappers.
The men, all in their 20s, had been jailed repeatedly on charges of cattle rustling; one was twice imprisoned for armed robbery, the government said.
In the second incident, the ministry said border guards in Boca de Nuevitas, some 340 miles southeast of Havana, reported an unusual departure by a craft owned by Geocuba, a government company that does geological exploration and mapping.
Bahamas' Ministry of Foreign Affairs said later that it had been alerted that a Cuban government-owned pilot boat was headed for Bahamian waters with 10 to 15 people aboard. It said Bahamas' Defense Force was investigating.
Cuba said its officials notified the U.S. Coast Guard but were told the Americans would not follow the vessel.
Cuba launched planes and patrol boats to chase the Geocuba craft, but they held back because "it is not the policy of the government of Cuba to attack hijacked vessels with people aboard on the high seas," the ministry said.
Shortly before noon, according to Cuba, the vessel entered Bahamian waters.
Cuban officials blamed both incidents on the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, which makes it difficult to deport Cubans who land in the United States. The United States has warned that hijackers who reached American shores would be arrested, tried and deported after serving long sentences.
Cuba saw a wave of armed hijackings earlier this year and has said its use of the death penalty was justified.