The "Tugboat massacre" is the name given by Cuban-Americans, exiles, and dissidents, to a July 13, 1994, incident where 41 Cubans who attempted to leave the island of Cuba on a hijacked tugboat drown at sea. The Cuban archive project, a New York City based organization which promotes human rights in Cuba, has alleged that the Cuban coast guard deliberately sank the commandeered vessel and then refused to rescue some of the passengers. For their part, the Cuban government has denied responsibility, and stated that the boat was sunk by accident.
On July 13, 1994, at approximately three in the morning, around seventy men, women, and children boarded the tugboat "13 de Marzo" (13th of March). With all vessels in Cuba owned by the state, it would have been illegal to acquire such a boat. It is alleged that around seven miles northeast of Havana harbor, Cuban coast guard vessels rammed the tugboat causing it to sink.
According to survivor María Victoria García, who resettled in the United States in 1999 thanks to a visa obtained for her by the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, the government vessels refused to provide assistance to some of the distressed passengers. As a result only 31 survivors were pulled from the water.
Ms. García, whose ten-year old son, husband, and other close family members died in the incident, has stated:
"After nearly an hour of battling in the open sea, the boat circled round the survivors, creating a whirlpool so that we would drown. Many disappeared into the seas... We asked them to save us, but they just laughed."
- Survivor of 13 de Marzo Tugboat Sinking Arrives in Exile AP, May 26, 1999
- "Human rights activists pay tribute to the victims of the March 13th Tugboat Massacre". http://www.directorio.org/pressreleases/note.php?note_id=1636.
- Maria C. Werlau. "Cuba: The Tugboat Massacre of July 13, 1994". http://www.cubaarchive.org/13_DE_MARZO_TUGBOAT_MASSACRE.pdf.