Cuba Ballplayers Rescued At Sea

Four Cuban baseball players and a coach who defected from the communist island more than a week ago were rescued at sea and taken to a small Bahamian island, a baseball agent said Saturday.

The crew of a fishing vessel plucked them out of the rickety boat Friday and turned them over to Bahamian officials on Ragged Island, said Joe Cubas, an agent who has helped several Cuban baseball players flee their country.

In addition to the four players and the coach, four other Cubans were on the boat and were rescued, Cubas said.

"They're all in very good condition," he said.

Vernon Burrows, the Bahamian deputy director of immigration confirmed a group of Cubans was handed over to officials by fishermen.

"We have nine Cubans at Ragged Island but I don't know who they are," Burrows told The Associated Press. He said there was no telephone at the Ragged Island police station where the group was being held.

Sparsely populated Ragged Island, one of the southernmost Bahamian islands, is located about 80 miles off the north coast of Cuba.

Burrows said the nine would be brought to Nassau on Sunday where they will held at a detention center that holds dozens of other Cuban rafters.

The defectors fled late on the night of March 10 from near the city of Holguin in eastern Cuba.

The mother of Jorge Luis Toca, one of the players who defected, said she hadn't heard reports that her son had been rescued because the electricity was out in the central Cuban town of Santa Clara, where she lives. She was relieved to hear the news.

"But I won't be satisfied until I hear his voice," Francisca Gomez, 56, told The Associated Press by phone from Santa Clara, Cuba. "Please, if you talk to him, tell him to call me. Because I feel I'm going to die."

Cubas said he spoke by phone to the wife of the captain of the fishing boat, the 53-foot Justice, who held the phone up to a shore-to-ship radio, so he could hear the voices of the players.

The Justice was anchored in Bahamian waters Friday night when the small boat carrying the nine defectors drifted into the fishing boat, said Mrs. Bastian, who didn't want her first name used.

"They took them to the closest island, which is Ragged Island, and handed them over to the police there" about noon EST Saturday, she said.

Cubas said he planned to ask Bahamian officials not to repatriate the defectors. He said he also planned to ask Costa Rica to grant visas to the entire group.

The players, former members of the national team, were catcher Angel Lopez, 25 second baseman Jorge Diaz, 23; pitching coach Enrique Chinea, 41; and Michael Jova, a 17-year-old shortstop from Cuba's junior Olympic team.

All five were banned from baseball on the Caribbean island in July because Cuban authorities suspected they were planning to defect.

An inaccurate report Friday said the five players had landd in the Dominican Republic.

Written by Evan Perez.
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