The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Thursday that individuals planning to sail into waters near Cuba could face thousands of dollars in fines and possible prison time if they enter Cuban territory without permission from the U.S. Coast Guard.
A DHS advisory issued Thursday followed news that a group of organizers in South Florida planned to launch a flotilla, or fleet of ships, next week to demonstrate their support for the ongoing anti-government protests in Cuba.
However, the DHS reminded Floridians that it “is illegal for boaters to depart from the U.S. with the intent of transiting to Cuba for any purpose without a permit,” adding that the “waters in the Florida Straits are unpredictable and dangerous.”
“The Coast Guard urges South Florida recreational boaters considering transiting toward Cuban territorial waters to "not take to the sea,’” the department said in a press release announcing the advisory.
The agency said that boaters who illegally enter Cuban territorial waters or depart from the U.S. with “the intention of entering” Cuban waters without a permit “may be subject to seizure of their vessel, civil and criminal penalties up to $25,000 per day, and 10 years in prison.”
The department went on to emphasize that boaters may be put in danger by taking to the sea, especially with the potential for strong winds and waves during hurricane season.
DHS said Thursday that should people decide to travel near Cuban waters, they should have in place “working communication equipment,” monitor the Coast Guard’s emergency channel, obtain proper life jackets and closely monitor the weather conditions, among other recommendations.
The planned sea voyage comes as Floridians in Miami and other areas across Florida, which holds the country's largest segment of Cuban Americans, have been holding demonstrations to show their support for the Cuban people protesting against the communist government amid a worsening economic crisis within the island nation.
According to Miami CBS affiliate WFOR, local organizer Osdany Veloz said that he wants “more than 100 boats” to gather Monday to set sail toward Cuba.
One individual who plans to make the trip, Jorge Lopez, told the local news outlet, “The purpose is to stay on the border, not trespassing, stay in international water and just let the Cuban people know we’re also fighting for their freedom, so once and for all they can be a free country.”