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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 00:15 GMT
Cubans break for Florida in Buick
1959 Buick with 11 people on board
The Buick was stopped 16 kilometres from the Florida Keys
A group of Cubans using a 1959 Buick car to sail to the US have been turned back by coastguards, say relatives.

The bright green converted Buick- carrying 11 people - was stopped on Tuesday during its 90 mile (140 kilometre) journey to Florida.

This is the second attempt by at least two of the crew to make a break for the US in a vintage-car-turned-boat.

Last July, they were caught sailing the stretch of water in a 1951 Chevrolet pick-up truck equipped with floats.

Marciel Basanta Lopez and Luis Grass Rodriguez were trying to pilot the Buick with four adults and five children when they were caught 10 miles (16 kms) from Marathon in Florida Keys.

Relatives said they set off on Monday by driving into the sea from a beach 20 miles (30 km) east of Havana.

Cubans' improvised a boat from a 1950s Chevy in July 2003
At least two of the Cubans used a Chevy truck last summer
Eduardo Perez Grass, a nephew of Luis Grass, said it cost $4,000 to convert the Buick , which was powered by its original V-8 motor.

"They sealed the doors and added a double bottom, steel plates for a bow and a propeller," he said.


He and other relatives pleaded with the United States not to repatriate them.

"The United States should have a little bit of compassion and value the determination of these people," he said. "They are clean people. All they want to do is live and work."

US coast guards refused to discuss the incident, saying it was not their policy to comment on cases until they are resolved.

Cuban activists in exile, Arturo Cobo and Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, say the 11 people are being returned to Cuba.

Usually, Cubans caught at sea are repatriated. Those who make it to US shores are generally allowed to stay.

Last July, Marciel Basanta Lopez and Luis Grass Rodriguez were among 12 sent back to Cuba after they failed to reach Florida shores in their Chevy pick-up.

They said at the time that it took just six hours to convert the truck, and they planned to drive it right on to the sand once they arrived at Key West.

The BBC's Clive Myrie
"Cuban exile groups say, for ingenuity alone, they should be allowed to live in America"

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