April 27, 2000

Tragedy at Havana Bay

Personal Testimony: The Sinking Of The 13 de Marzo Tug Boat

By Sergio Perodin. Special to CONTACTO Magazine. (

A Cuban Coast Guard cutter, that was watching the tragedy but never tried to stop it, saw a Greek ship addressing to Havana Bay. Then, with the intention to erase the image of the massacre, the cutter began rescueing operations.

The "13 de Marzo" tug boat, in which we had tried to flee Cuba the morning of July 13, 1994, had been sank. Those of us who could grab a floating ice box, saved our lives. When everything was over, 31 people had survived. Fourty-one, including 23 children, had died. My wife Pilar and my 11-year-old son Yasser, were among the dead ones.

Preparing the D-Day

Since long before, we had been planning the escape. At the beginning, during my 1994 vacations, I have contacted a close friend of mine, whose name I cannot say by now. With him, I hold the first talk about the idea. We two visited Raúl Muñoz, captain of "13 de Marzo", who at that time was in charge of Empresa de Navegación Mambisas's other ship. We got a new alliance for our plans. After meeting Muñoz, we met Fidencio Ramel Prieto, operations chief of Havana port and Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in his workplace. There was a mutual confidence. Muñoz and Ramel Prieto were wanting to leave Cuba as intensively as ourselves.

So, we began plotting the details of the escape.

Before July 13, we had carried out three attempts to leave Cuba, but several reasons forced us to postpone the crossing. Finally, on July 13 the group got into the 13 de Marzo. Ramel Prieto had the tug boat under his control, including the motor's key and the rudder. Cuban ships may not be at port with the key and rudder on board.

When we had just addressed the tug boat to Florida Straights waters, still in Havana Bay, we learned that Cuban State Security forces knew our plans.


We set sail about 300 meters from the port headquarters, which is in the middle of the bay. We sailed around the city of Regla area, getting away as much as possible from the headquarters. But even doing so, a so-called Polargo-type tug boat came to us when we were sailing at 200 meters from El Morro fort. From the Polargo tug boat they tried to sink "13 de Marzo" by using high pressure water hoses.

People in Havana Malecon (a popular seafront place), couples, fishermen, began to shout asking the Polargo's crew not to sink us. The women on "13 de Marzo" went to the deck and showed the children, seeking the Polargo men to understand they were going to kill even children. They did not stop. Then there was a collision between the Polargo and "13 de Marzo", and we got the opportunity to flee Havana Bay. When getting the open sea, we saw two other Polargo ships hidden behing El Morro, whose crews were waiting for us.

The three Polargo tug boats surrounded our ship and began using the high pressure water hoses once again forcing "13 de Marzo" to get away from the coast. They crashed "13 de Marzo" intentionally again and over again, trying to overturn us. But "13 de Marzo"'s structure was really strong. Then they decided to stand one in front and one behind us. The Polargo behind us hit "13 de Marzo" several times until our tug boat began to sink. When they saw our ship was sinking, the Polargo behind us rode 13 de Marzo's stern. Fifty percent of "13 de Marzo" was already under water at that time.

About 30 people remained trapped into "13 de Marzo"'s holds. Those of us who could reach the water surface saw how the Polargos were making whirlpools around us at a high speed. They remained doing this for over 40 minutes. Obviously, they were trying not to leave survivors who could become dangerous witnesses. A group of 15 to 18, including my son Sergio and I, grabed a floating ice box. So we could survive. We knew nothing about other members of our family also on "13 de Marzo".

The "Rescue"

Surprisingly, the three Polargos stoped. After that, a Cuban Coast Guard cutter came and rescued us. When we were on the cutter we understood why it had rescued us. A Greek ship had been addressing to Havana Bay about 800 to 1,000 meters from the scene. The cutter knew from the beginning what was going on. Its crew members had seen what the Polargos were doing with us. The cutter had followed the Polargos and "13 de Marzo" all the time.

We remained on the cutter from 4 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Then they took us to a naval station in Jamanitas beach, where we saw generals and colonels. They jailed us until 6 p.m., when five children and five women from our group were taken to their homes. The men were transfered to Villa Marista, the Cuban State Security headquarters. We spent 20 days at Villa Marista. After this, they imposed us a house arrest.

Another attempt

In such a difficult situation, with a lot of work, we secretly made a raft. On August 23, 1994, we went to the sea once again. That was a succesful attempt. Fifty miles from Cuba, we were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and taken to Guatanamo naval base.

For humanitarian reasons, especially for my son Sergio who fled with me, four members of our family, all of us survivors from the "13 de Marzo" experience, were granted a parole to travel to Miami. I am going to fight as much as I can to help people understand the crime against the innocent men, women and children trying to flee Cuba on the "13 de Marzo" tug boat. ©

Perodin testified before a U.S. Congress committee on February 1995, before the U.N. Human Rights Commission on March 1995, and before two subcommissions of the Venezuela's Senate on April, 1995. U.N Human Rights Commssion condemned Castro's regime for the sinking of "13 de Marzo" in 1995. It has condemned Cuba during the last seven years.




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