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Hijackers killed crew members, Survivor claims

The story of the missing crew members aboard an abandoned Miami Beach charter boat took a strange turn on Wednesday with talk of mysterious hijackers and deadly shootings on the high seas.

One of the two men who hired the four-member crew to take them to Bimini told U.S. Coast Guard officials that all four were ”shot and killed” by several ”unknown792-boat3embeddedprod_affiliate56.jpg hijackers.” He told them the hijackers had apparently stormed the boat on the high seas near the Bahamas, according to court documents released on Wednesday.

Guillermo Zarabozo, 19, of Hialeah, told Coast Guard officials on Tuesday that he survived the supposed attack after he complied with the hijackers’ orders to throw the bodies of the four dead crew members overboard, court documents show.

That same day, Coast Guard officials towed The Joe Cool, the 47-foot sportfisher boat at the center of the mystery, to Miami Beach and asked Zarabozo to identify it. Asked twice by Coast Guard officials, Zarabozo replied he did not recognize the boat. He also told them he had not been on board the vessel.

Court documents show the statement conflicted with evidence Coast Guard officials found on the boat: Zarabozo’s Florida ID.

Coast Guard officials also reported they found six marijuana cigarettes, a laptop computer, computer accessories, luggage, a daily planner, clothing, and a cellular phone aboard the boat. They also reported finding a handcuff key on the vessel’s bow as well as a substance on the vessel’s stern that appeared to be blood.

The man accompanying Zarabozo on the vessel, Kirby Archer, 36, of Arkansas, was also interviewed by Coast Guard officials. The court document did not indicate whether he was asked about the apparent hijacking or the alleged shootings aboard the vessel. Archer told Coast Guard officials that he was aware of an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Arkansas.

Archer was charged Tuesday with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in an unrelated case. He is a former customer service manager at an Arkansas Wal-Mart and is accused of stealing $92,000 from the store by sneaking it out in a microwave oven in January.

Zarabozo was charged with giving a false statement to a federal agent investigating the disappearance of the four crew members.Both men waived the Miranda rights when brought aboard a Coast Guard cutter for questioning. Both were being kept at the federal detention center in downtown Miami following an appearance in federal court in Miami on Wednesday.

The vessel, say Coast Guard officials, was found abandoned on Monday at around 6 p.m. about 11 nautical miles southwest of Anguilla Cay, Bahamas, and about 40 miles north of Cuba.

Zarabozo and Archer were found Monday morning floating on a life raft 12 miles north of the drifting boat. They had hired the four-member crew of The Joe Cool on Sunday for a trip to Bimini.

On Tuesday, the Coast Guard moved its search for the four crew members farther north to waters off Palm Beach County. The missing are captain Jake Branam, 27; his wife, Kelley Branam, 30; Branam’s half-brother Scott Gamble, 35; and first mate Samuel Kairy, 27, all of Miami Beach. Relatives of the Branams hired a helicopter Tuesday and flew a stretch of the Florida Straits                                                               Source: MH

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