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Cuba Denies Responsibility for U.S. Barge Losses

Cuba on Thursday categorically refuted statements by the U.S. company Harbor Homes LLC blaming Cuban authorities for losses from the tugboat Muheet.

A statement from the Transport Ministry described as false the complaints regarding the losses of humanitarian aid on two barges that were being towed to Haiti by the tugboat.

On Nov. 30, the Muheet ran out of fuel off the coast of Baracoa, Cuba, and was stranded as it awaited another tugboat for assistance promised by shipowner Caribbean Investor LLC.

The help was supposed to arrive from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and when it did not, the tugboat just 2.98 miles from the Cuban coast issued a call for help at 23:55 hours local time.

The call was answered by the tugboat Hercules, based in the Cuban port of Antilla, which headed toward the Muheet and its two barges at about 01:30 a.m. on Dec. 1.

While en route, the captain of the Muheet said the lines tying the barges to the tugboat had broken, stranding them.

The weather conditions, with a Douglas sea state of 3-4 and scarce visibility, caused both captains to decide to continue to port and proceed with the rescue early the next day.

The same day, Dec. 1, a rescue crew headed for the spot where the barges were stranded and began rescue operations, which lasted until Dec. 5, the Transport Ministry said.

One of the barges was refloated and towed to the port of Moa, but it was impossible to refloat or recover the freight on the second barge, declared a total loss by the shipowner, the official note said.

During the rescue operations, part of the cargo from the refloated barge was recovered, consisting of foodstuffs, electrical appliances, tires, plastic containers, wooden panels and medicine.

An account of what had been recovered was reported to U.S. authorities and these resources are still being held in a warehouse in Baracoa, guarded by Cuban Customs authorities, the Cuban ministry said.

In an inspection of the Muheet and the refloated barge by the appropriate authority, as established for cases of forced arrivals and maritime accidents, it was found that the tugboat’s government certificates were expired.

In addition, it did not have anchors, a factor that influenced its being set adrift rapidly and inability to maneuver to avoid coming close to the Cuban coast, the statement said.

For that reason, the tugboat was not authorized to leave port until the problems detected had been resolved, according to the regional accords to which Cuba is party.

The investigation by Maritime State Security and Inspection authorities showed that the causes of the accident were a lack of anticipation and planning for the trip by the command of the tugboat and the shipowner, which did not have the necessary fuel aboard for the planned days of navigation.

Other factors were the failure to comply with security measures and good maritime practice related to using weather forecasts to appropriately plan a course and safe harbour in the face of adverse weather.

The Cuban ministry also referred to imprecision in the shipowner’s decision to authorize immediate recovery efforts without taking into account the dangerous conditions for crew and cargo.

All of these issues were reported on an ongoing basis to the U.S. government through the Cuban Foreign Ministry, which even facilitated contact between the U.S. Interests Section in Havana with the Transport Ministry.

During the incident, a flow of messages was maintained between the Cuban Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District in Miami and its liaison in the U.S. Interests Section, the note concluded.

(Prensa Latina, Solvision)

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