KEY WEST, Fla., Nov. 26 (UPI) -- In an incident reminiscent of the Elian Gonzalez case three years ago, federal agents determined Tuesday a 13-year-old boy caught in a 21-foot boat at sea and held aboard a Coast Guard cutter will be brought ashore.
Officials said he has been declared a material witness in a smuggling attempt to bring him from Cuba to the United States. The case began Monday when a boater found another boat out of gas near Key West and began towing it in. The Coast Guard responded and gave the disabled boat gas and began escorting it in to shore.
It ran out of gas again and the rescue boat towed it in despite five-foot seas. When they arrived, five men and a woman managed to jump out of the 21-foot boat make it to the beach, Coast Guard Lt. Tony Russell said.
He said another man and the unidentified 13-year-old remained aboard. They were put on a Coast Guard cutter.
One of the men who made it ashore and the man who remained on the vessel will be charged with smuggling the other six.
The boy was kept on the cutter overnight while federal officials decided what to do with him. Finally they said he would be classified as a material witness, and brought ashore later Tuesday;
The boy's father is believed to be one of the migrants who made it ashore. Officials said they believed his mother is back in Cuba.
Under the federal government's wet-foot, dry-foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment
Act of 196l, if a Cuban makes it to shore in the United States, he is allowed to stay. Those who are caught before they reach dry land are repatriated.
Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, Elian Gonzalez arrived in south Florida clinging to an innertube. His mother had drowned when a boat capsized while it was taking them to Florida.
The arrival touched off a custody battle that resulted in a raid by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on the Miami home of his great uncle and his family. Six-year-old Elian was then turned over to his father and brought back to Cuba to the dismay of the Cuban-American community in Miami.