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Cuba Frees Ship Carrying New Zealand’s America’s Cup Sailboat

Times Staff Writer

Cuban officials Wednesday released a small American vessel carrying strange cargo--New Zealand’s America’s Cup sailboat--after holding it for 23 1/2 hours.

A Cuban gunboat had intercepted the offshore oil supply vessel Tampa Seahorse on Tuesday, alleging it had penetrated the island’s claimed 12-mile territorial limit en route from San Diego to New York, via the Panama Canal.

The United States generally recognizes only 3-mile limits for international waters.

The ship was escorted into Porto Cayo Moa and held overnight. Capt. Jeff Jappe, of Ojai, and his crew of seven, plus a New Zealand syndicate member, did not leave the vessel but were towed out of port Wednesday morning and sent on their way.

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“No charges, no fines, no hassle,” said Barney White, a spokesman for Zapata Gulf Marine Corp. of New Orleans, which owns the Tampa Seahorse.

White said his company had not been in direct contact with Jappe, but the captain had contacted another Zapata Gulf Marine ship that was near Puerto Rico to confirm his ship’s release.

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, but White indicated that the State Department, through its U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and the New Zealand Embassy apparently were involved in discussions with Cuban officials about the incident.

“They say we were within 9 miles,” White said. “The Cubans are pretty touchy about their territorial waters. This is the nautical equivalent of being pulled over and having your driver’s license checked.”

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Earlier, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said such incidents occur “10 or 12 times a year.”

White said, “The general rule of the sea is at the end of 24 hours either to release it or notify the nation it belongs to why you’re keeping it.”

The Tampa Seahorse carried only the big sailboat, its detached keel, two masts and two small tenders.

White was asked whether the Cubans also may have been curious about the unusual configuration of a gleaming white 133-foot boat with wings aboard a 156-foot oil company vessel.

“It was unusual cargo,” he said, “but we have no indication that was it.”

The Tampa Seahorse is expected to deliver the boat to New York by Monday afternoon. The boat will be sailed in seven East Coast ports to promote New Zealand trade and tourism.


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