By Peter Polack
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (Reuters) - A Cuban migrant drowned after a makeshift vessel with four passengers overturned in rough seas off the Cayman Islands on Saturday afternoon, local officials said.
The three other Cubans, all in their 20s and 30s, made it to shore clinging to two inner tubes with the help of local surfers and were taken into custody, local officials said on Sunday.
The dead man was identified as Manuel Marino, believed to be in his 50s, Cayman officials said. They three survivors were identified as Dailer Perez Arresoitia, 27, Diosul Alarcon Barrero, 37, and Lety Sanchez Fonseca, 33, all from Santa Cruz del Sur in the eastern province of Camaguey.
Local police had been watching the 18-foot wooden sailboat off the coast of Grand Cayman during the day. The island lies southwest of Cuba, between it and the Central American mainland.
Cubans fleeing their country have been heading in increasing numbers to Central America by sea and then making a long journey overland to reach the United States.
Cuba blames Washington's "wet foot, dry foot policy" for encouraging migrants to risk their lives. Under the policy, Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain. Those intercepted at sea are turned back.
Cuba and the U.S. made a historic announcement Dec. 17 to renew diplomatic relations, but the agreement made no mention about any changes to immigration policies.
U.S. officials say more than 16,000 Cubans arrived without visas at the border with Mexico last year, the highest number in a decade.
The Cayman Islands government recently met with Cuban authorities to review an existing migration accord, under which Cubans who land in the Cayman Islands are usually repatriated.
(Writing by David Adams)