A small vessel carrying New Zealand’s massive America’s Cup sailboat from San Diego to New York was seized by a Cuban gunboat and taken into port Tuesday afternoon.
According to the U. S. Coast Guard in Miami, the Cubans said the 156-foot, offshore oil-support ship Tampa Seahorse, flying an American flag, was inside Cuba’s claimed 12-mile territorial waters off the southeastern end of the island.
Location Was Given
The ship’s master disputed the charge, but before being escorted into the port of Porto Cayo Moa, he gave his position to the Coast Guard as 20 degrees, 50 minutes north, 74 degrees, 45 minutes west.
From the Miami Coast Guard base, Lt. Wayne Ball said: “We plotted that position, and the Cubans may have a case. It’s right at 12 miles.”
Apparently, the vessel offered no resistance, and the Cubans showed no excessive force and did not attempt to board it.
The ship master’s name and those of five crewmen were withheld by the Zapata Gulf Marine Corp., which owns the New Orleans-based vessel.
Also on board was a New Zealand national: Matthew Montgomery, 31, of Auckland. He was a member of the New Zealand Challenge team, in charge of the tenders.
Ball said the U. S. State Department was pursuing the incident through its Cuban Interest Section. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The Tampa Seahorse had passed through the Panama Canal and was proceeding through the Windward Passage between Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“This is not unusual,” Ball said. “It happens 10 or 12 times a year, with anything from fishing boats to large freighters, and not only Americans. If you cut that corner on Cuba coming up from the canal, the Cubans will usually come out and take a look. They’ll usually take the guy into port, look at him and let him go maybe 24 hours later.”
The Tampa Seahorse was carrying no cargo other than the sailboat, its detached 21-foot-deep keel, two 160-foot masts and two small chase boats.
“In this case,” Ball said, “they probably went out and radioed back, ‘Hey, we’ve got something real unusual here.’ ”
In previous incidents, Ball said, the Coast Guard has been able to contact Cuban border guards to mitigate matters.
“But this particular incident, the State Department wanted to handle it,” Ball said. “We’re monitoring it but haven’t been asked to assist.”
No State Department spokesman could be contacted for comment.
The 133-foot sloop, which lost its challenge against the Stars & Stripes catamaran in two lopsided races last month, left San Diego Sept. 25 to participate in a seven-city tour of the East Coast organized by the New Zealand government to promote tourism and trade.
It was scheduled to arrive in New York sometime next weekend and sail into New York Harbor on Oct. 31, before continuing to Newport, R.I.; Boston; Baltimore; Annapolis, Md.; Washington and Philadelphia.
New York Arrival Imperiled
Peter Debreceny, spokesman for syndicate head Michael Fay, said by phone from New York late Tuesday: “We’re hopeful it will be sailing in New York on schedule.”
Lowell Oswald, a spokesman for Zapata Gulf Marine, said such an incident is “not unheard of” and that “they usually let them go in about 12 hours.”