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Stowaway chose unlucky freighter

A 14-year-old Haitian boy's attempt to get to Miami nearly ended when the Honduran freighter he had stowed away on sank in a storm.

The stowaway boy and 14 crew members from the Holstein, carrying 40,000 100-pound bags of corn flour, were rescued Saturday from the Gulf of Mexico by a Navy ship that docked here Monday.

As 30-foot waves swamped the 225-foot freighter, the flour bags broke open and turned the dark water a lighter color of blue, helping guide the mine countermeasures ship USS Defender to the scene.

The freighter sank as the Defender arrived. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued four other crew members and took them to St. Petersburg. No one was lost.

Holstein crewman Carlos Ortega of Nicaragua said the stowaway didn't want to jump when the order to abandon ship came.

"I had to make him jump off the ship and then jump off after him and make sure he did not drown," Ortega said through a translator. "I had to grab him by the neck to keep him out of the water. I did not have time to think about anybody but the boy."

The stowaway had boarded the ship unseen in Haiti, hoping to join relatives in Miami. Four days later, while the ship was in Pensacola to take on its cargo, a head popped out of one of the lifeboats, Ortega said.

He said the boy was scared and weak because he hadn't had food or water for four days. The crew fed him and called the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which told them to take him back to Haiti.

When the Defender arrived here, the boy was flown to Miami.

The Defender was headed from Key West to the Naval Coastal Systems Station near this Florida Panhandle city to test navigational equipment when it received a distress signal from the Holstein.

"They were about 100 miles west of Tampa," said Lt. Cmdr. David W. Prothero, the Defender's captain. "They said they were taking on water, and they had water above their deck plates."

The Defender lost radio contact after the Holstein gave its location and announced the crew was going to abandon ship. An hour later, the Defender's crew spotted a flare in the early morning darkness.