Empty raft washes up on Florida beach

Jan. 8, 2013 at 2:06 PM

MIAMI, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A raft found empty on a beach south of Miami is believed to have been the one that carried four Cubans rescued by a cruise ship, officials say.

Nancy Perez, who discovered the raft during a nature walk Saturday near the Black Point Marina on Cutler Bay, told The Miami Herald she believed the occupants of the raft must be dead because she found an altar to Elegua, a divinity in the Afro-Caribbean Yoruba religion.

"No one abandons an Elegua. If you believe in that and you put it in the raft, you don't," she said.

But the Herald said photographs emailed by a passenger on the Carnival Valor suggest the raft is the same one the ship encountered Dec. 30. The Valor took four Cubans on board and later transferred them to a Coast Guard vessel.

The Coast Guard said it could not confirm the two rafts are the same.

The people rescued by the Valor are likely to be returned to Cuba under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy unless they can make valid claims they face persecution. Under that policy, Cuban refugees who reach the United States have an automatic right to remain.

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