BAHAMAS — The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is escorting three “motherships” with 124 fishermen from the Dominican Republic to the capital after they were turned over to the Defence Force by the Cuban Border Patrol earlier today.

The Dominicans had illegally entered Cuban waters after being pursued by the Defence Force for illegally fishing in Bahamian waters. The apprehension was the result of a collaborative effort by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force with the United States Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Patrol over the past several days.

On Wednesday 10th October, the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) VIGILANT with a Defence Force ship-rider on board reported the sighting of a fishing vessel from the Dominican Republic north of the Republic of Haiti. The Dominicans aboard the vessel indicated that they were in route to The Bahamas.

The Defence Force was subsequently notified and Her Majesty’s Bahamian Ship (HMBS) MADEIRA was directed to intercept the Dominican vessel in the event it entered Bahamian waters.

HMBS MADEIRA later sighted the three vessels at daybreak on Saturday 13th October with skiffs in the water near Cay Lobos–a small cay on the southern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, 12 nautical miles north of central Cuba. MADEIRA deployed its seaboat with a boarding team to apprehend the motherships before they entered Cuban waters.

The Dominican vessels opened fire on the approaching boarding team while fleeing into Cuban waters. MADEIRA’s boarding party returned fire in self-defence. One of the three steel-hulled vessels ran aground in Cuban waters while trying to escape. None of the Defence Force boarding team members were injured during the incident.

The Defence Force immediately alerted the Cuban Border Patrol of the incident and informed The Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which sought the assistance of the Cuban Government in apprehending the vessels. As a result, the Cuban Border Patrol apprehended the three vessels with 124 crewmembers yesterday (Saturday October 13th) and turned them over to MADEIRA and HMBS DURWARD KNOWLES earlier this morning (October 14th). HMBS DURWARD KNOWLES was also on patrol in the southeastern Bahamas investigating a separate report of a suspicious vessel in the area.