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Cuba says at least 5 dead after boat heading to US crashes

HAVANA — A boat off northern Cuba traveling toward the United States sank Saturday after a collision with a Cuban coast guard ship, and at least five people died, Cuban officials said Saturday.

The craft reportedly flipped over after the crash near Bahía Honda, about two hours from the capital of Havana.

Among the five known dead were a minor and three women, while about two dozen people were rescued, the state media outlet Cubadebate said.

Further details were not released, with Cuban officials telling the state channel that an investigation was underway.

The incident comes amid the biggest migratory flight from the Caribbean island in four decades, spurred by a deepening economic, political and energy crisis.

Cuba's Interior Ministry threw blame on the U.S., saying the deaths were a "another consequence" of American policy toward Cuba, including the 60-year embargo.

Meanwhile, the U.S. sent condolences to the families of those deceased.

"As we expand safe and legal pathways for migration, we warn against attempting dangerous and sometimes fatal irregular migration," said a tweet from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, which has yet to resume full operations on the island.

The vast majority of Cubans who are leaving go by plane to Nicaragua, then travel overland to the U.S. border, often in Texas and Arizona.

But a growing number have fled by boat on the dangerous 90-mile journey to the southern coast of the United States. Between October 2021 and August 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted more than 4,600 Cubans traveling by boat, almost six times more than in all of 2020.

It is the largest exodus since 1980, when around 125,000 Cubans traveled by sea to the U.S. over six months, known as the Mariel crisis.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press