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Mystery at Sea: Survivor gives conflicting account

MIAMI – The Hialeah teenager had a harrowing tale to tell a Coast Guard investigator: Mysterious hijackers stormed aboard a boat on the high seas near the Bahamas and shot and killed four crew members, including the captain’s wife “because she was hysterical.”

Guillermo Zarabozo said the hijackers then turned to him, demanding he toss the bodies of the four dead overboard into the Atlantic Ocean or suffer the same fate.

Zarabozo’s account of mayhem and murder aboard the boat he and a buddy, Kirby Archer, had chartered from Miami Beach to Bimini during the weekend was contained in a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court. Federal investigators won’t say whether they believe Zarabozo, but they have charged him with lying to authorities about his presence on the 47-foot sport fishing boat, the “Joe Cool.”

The vessel was discovered Sunday, abandoned in the waters off Anguilla Cay, Bahamas. The following morning, Coast Guard officials rescued Zarabozo and Archer, who were clinging to a life raft several miles away, and questioned them about what had happened.joecool3.jpg

According to the criminal complaint, they asked Zarabozo on Tuesday to identify the vessel where he said he witnessed hijackers carrying out the execution-style shootings. He gave investigators a baffling statement: He told them he did not recognize the boat and had never been aboard it.

Investigators had found Zarabozo’s Florida ID on the boat.

Relatives of the four missing crew members said they were shocked to learn of the horrific scenario painted by Zarabozo from the media on Wednesday after walking out of a meeting with the FBI.

Jeff Branam, the uncle of the Joe Cool’s captain, said Zarabozo’s story is a blow to the families. “It’s devastating, but I still have hope. Maybe other boaters picked them up or they swam to an island,” he said.

Branam can’t deny a more tragic scenario, saying “maybe the young guy is saying that . . . in case the bodies are found with bullet wounds.”

Zarabozo and Archer made their first appearance in Miami federal court on Wednesday. Archer is charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in an unrelated theft case. The former customer-service manager at an Arkansas Wal-Mart is accused of stealing $92,000 from the store by sneaking it out in a microwave oven in January.

Zarabozo said little. He is single, lives with his parents in Hialeah and had $20 in a local bank account.

Archer told the judge that he was separated from his wife, had two children and had no bank accounts.

Archer, who paid $4,000 cash to charter the boat, also told the judge: “The government has $2,200 of mine.”

Magistrate Judge Robert Dube appointed lawyers for both men. Federal prosecutor Michael Gilfarb recommended they be held without bail before trial. A bond hearing is set for Friday, with arraignment scheduled for Oct. 11.

Source: OS 


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