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#3942: Haiti-US-Hijacked Ferry (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 29 (AP) -- Authorities arrested 10 former Haitian
police officers Monday on charges that they disguised themselves as
missionaries, hijacked a ferry boat and attempted to sail to the United
   The 10 men were returned to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, by a
U.S. Coast Guard cutter after the ferry was found adrift in U.S. waters
south of the Bahamas on May 21. There were 121 people on board.
   "They were false missionaries. Their real mission was to sail to Miami,"
said Jean Luckner Louis, captain of the 80-foot catamaran, Gonave en
   Two of the men were active-duty police officers who were fired Monday
after their journey, and eight were former traffic police, authorities
   "We didn't steal the boat -- we stole the destination," said former
traffic police officer Michel Evrex, 24, as he waited in handcuffs in front
of the office of the Haitian Coast Guard commander.
   Saying they were Protestant missionaries, the 10 men rented the boat on
May 16 to go from Port-au-Prince to the fishing village of Pestel, an
11-hour trip, according to the ferry's shipping agent, Serge Jeudi. They
paid $2,125, he said.
   The men boarded the ferry with 50 other people dressed in white, who
police believe paid to be smuggled into the United States. One of them told
the Associated Press he paid $125 for the voyage.
   The group then hoisted a flag reading "The Church of Holiness" in
French, Jeudi said.
   There rest were passengers and crew.
   Several hours before arriving in Pestel, the 10 men pulled out guns,
tied up the crew and forced Louis to change course, the captain said. They
then changed into their police uniforms, he said.
   The other "missionaries" danced and clapped their hands, passengers
   The boat ran out of fuel 500 miles northwest of Haiti, and was spotted
by a freighter, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Passengers told Coast Guard
officers they had been hijacked.
   All were sent back to Haiti, except a 13-year-old boy whose request for
political asylum was being investigated by the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service.
   Evrex said he and the others hatched the plot to escape Haiti's crushing
poverty. He had been jobless since being fired from the police force for
missing one day of work in 1998, he said.
   "I tried to find work, but no one wanted to hire me," he said. "There
was no other way out."
   The number of Haitians trying to flee to the United States by boat has
increased recently as the Caribbean country's economy worsens amid
political instability. More than 1,000 Haitians have been picked up at sea
so far this year, compared with 750 people in all of 1997, the U.S. Coast
Guard said.