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Six Cubans land in Texas after drifting across Gulf of Mexico

By Amanda Orr

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Six men who identified themselves as Cubans have landed on a Texas coastal island after the engine failed on their boat, causing it to drift for more than two weeks across the Gulf of Mexico before reaching shore, authorities said on Tuesday.

The men told authorities they were trying to land in Cancun, Mexico about 260 miles (420 km) away and to the west from their launch point in Nueva Gerona, Cuba, but landed on South Padre Island in south Texas, about 950 miles away (1,500 km).

"They were elated when they found out they were in the U.S.," said Horacio Zamora, head of the Cameron County, Texas parks department.

Zamora said the men appeared to be in good condition. U.S. officials said the men were in custody. Under the U.S. "wet foot, dry foot policy," Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain while those intercepted at sea are turned back.

The men told authorities that they had been adrift since Aug. 15, when their boat's engine failed. They threw the engine overboard and made a makeshift sail out of a plastic sheet, authorities said.

Boats carrying Cubans who are seeking to flee the communist-run island are frequently seen off the Cayman Islands, located in the Caribbean less than 100 miles (160 km) south of Cuba. They are usually headed for Honduras from where migrants make the long journey overland to reach the U.S. border with Mexico.

The U.S. Border Patrol said in late July that more than 13,500 Cubans without proper travel documents had tried to cross the southwestern U.S. border since last Oct. 1, more than during all of the previous 12 months. Four years ago, the 12-month total was about 5,500.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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