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#3831: U.S. agents to determine if Haitian ferry hijacked (fwd)


WIRE:05/24/2000 10:10:00 ET
 U.S. agents to determine if Haitian ferry hijacked
MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. investigators boarded a Haitian ferry  off the
Bahamas Wednesday to determine if he vessel, carrying  121 people      
between Haitian ports, had been hijacked, the U.S.  Coast Guard said.  
Eleven or 12 of those on board had asked for political asylum in the
 United States, Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz said.Agents from the
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and FBI interviewed the
passengers and crew on board the  120-foot catamaran about 30 miles
 south of the Bahamian island of Andros. "There is a possible hijacking.
That's why the FBI is on  board to investigate," Diaz said.  Haitians
frequently try to flee their impoverished  Caribbean  homeland in small
boats to make the  650-mile journey to the  United States. Hundreds have
 arrived in the Bahamas, between  Haiti and Florida, in recent weeks. 
The Coast Guard has rescued 700 Haitians at sea this year,  many packed
into barely seaworthy vessels,compared with 480  last year. Haitian
migrants intercepted at sea or on U.S. shores  are generally sent     
home. The ferry was intercepted Tuesday about 500 miles northwest  of
Haiti. It was not clear how long it had been at sea or who  the
suspected hijackers might be. But it appeared the boat could be one
reported missing by  residents of the town of Corail in Haiti's
southwestern region of Grande-Anse.  Corail is served by a ferry service
bringing passengersand goods west from Port-au-Prince. The residents
said that a vessel left the capital on May 16 but did not reach
Corail.Three U.S. Coast Guard cutters surrounded the ferry, ready  to
provide medical help to anyone who needed it, Diaz said.