FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Faced with a long cruise back to his homeland and the end of a port-of-call romance in Cuba, authorities said a lovesick Russian sailor jumped ship on the high seas near the Bahamas late Sunday night.
Revelers on a passing Miami cruise ship heard the sailor's cries for help as he foundered in the dark ocean. With the help of a cargo freighter, the sailor was hauled from shark-infested waters and delivered to federal immigration authorities in Fort Lauderdale.
Carol Chasse of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said Igor Bajenol, 21, told authorities he jumped overboard from a military ship because he didn't want to go back to Russia -- or leave his girlfriend in Cuba.
"He's trying to seek asylum in Cuba, not the U.S.," Ms. Chasse said. "We'll detain him because he's not an admissible alien. Then we'll figure out what do with him."
Capt. John Markakis of Majesty Cruise Lines said Seaman Bajenol is lucky to be alive. The sailor narrowly missed being crushed by the Majesty cruise ship that helped rescue him. Markakis also said Seaman Bajenol foundered for hours in shark-infested waters up to 3,050 feet deep.
Authorities didn't know much about Seaman Bajenol or his background because he speaks little English, Ms. Chasse said. The FBI was scheduled to interview him with an interpreter.
Seaman Paul Coleman with the U.S. Coast Guard said Seaman Bajenol abandoned ship about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, about 8 1/2 miles off Great Stirrup Cay.
As he floated, a passenger on the cruise ship the Royal Majesty saw someone in the water and alerted the crew, Seaman Coleman said.
Captain Markakis said when searchlights pinpointed Seaman Bajenol, it was decided to let the Bahama Star, a freighter bound for Fort Lauderdale, pick him up because the freighter's deck is lower. The freighter's crew soon had the thankful Russian on board.
The freighter then alerted the Coast Guard and U.S. immigration authorities on its way to Port Everglades.
In a brief interview with a Russian-speaking INS agent, Seaman Bajenol said his ship was being reassigned from Cuba to Russia, Ms. Chasse said. Because he's not seeking asylum in the United States, it's up to the Cuban government to decide whether to allow him to return.
"If you're being deported from the U.S. and you don't want to be deported to your native country, you can request asylum in a third country, if that country will take you," she said.