HAVANA -- Cuba says it will turn over to the United States a Florida couple who allegedly kidnapped their own children from the mother's parents and fled by boat to Havana.
Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada told The Associated Press in a written statement that Cuba had informed U.S. authorities of the country's decision to turn over Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn and their two young boys. She did not say when the handover would occur.
According to a statement from Johana Tablada of the Ministry og Foreign Relations in Cuba:
Today, April 9th, at 10:30 a.m., Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Relations informed the U.S. Interest Section in Havana of the Cuban government's decision to turn over to U.S. authorities the U.S. citizens Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn Patricia and their two minor children.
Previously, on April 8th, at 1:30 p.m., the Ministry alerted the USIS in Havana and the U.S. State Department in Washington that on April 7th, at 3:20pm, the "Salty Paw" had arrived at the Hemingway Marina bearing a U.S. flag and aboard were the Hakken couple, and their two children.
The vessel arrived under less than favorable weather conditions.
After news reports surfaced of the Hakken couples association with a kidnapping case, the Cuban authorities communicated their presence in country.
From the beginning, information was exchanged and professional communication was maintained by the MINREX and the USIS in Habana to try to guarantee the integrity and well being of those minors.
The Hakkens were spotted alongside their boat, Salty, docked at Havana's Hemingway Marina. Joshua Michael Hakken told reporters to stay away but the family appeared to be interacting normally with each other.
Authorities say Joshua Hakken entered his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa last week, tied her up and fled with his young sons. Authorities had been searching by air and sea for a boat Hakken recently bought. The truck the family had been traveling in was found late Thursday, abandoned in a parking garage in Madeira Beach.
The boys had been living since last year with their maternal grandparents, who were granted permanent custody last Tuesday.
Now at issue is the welfare of the two Hakken boys, Chase and Cole. The U.S. Interest Section in Cuba released its own statement, saying it is aware of this case and it's in contact with local authorities.
"U.S. officials are providing all appropriate assistance to the family," the statement added. "Because of privacy reasons, we are unable to provide any additional information. One of the Department's highest priorities is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas. This is particularly true for children, who are our most vulnerable citizens. The Department works with parents and foreign governments to resolve these difficult cases."
Joshua Hakken is reportedly an experienced sailor, and his choice of sea vessel indicates he was highly calculated and knew exactly what he was doing. The vessel is a Morgan 25, and sailing experts say it was a clever choice.
Jim DeSanto gave WTSP 10 News a tour of his own Morgan 25. He said it has surprisingly ample room to accommodate four people. There's bed-space, eating areas, a galley with a stove, sitting areas, and storage for food and water in the small hull.
DeSanto said among people -- even with limited sailing experience -- the Morgan 25 has a solid reputation as an almost-perfect combination of livability and durability.
"This boat sails so well that one man can single-hand it in almost any conditions," said DeSanto.
Space and speed also make the Morgan more than capable of traveling long distances. And for that reason, DeSanto believes Hakken chose this particular kind of boat.
"I don't think it's an accident. If he had this planned out, it wasn't an accident," he said.
The thing about the Morgan 25 is that it can operate almost anywhere. With its centerboard down, it draws only about three feet, enabling it to reach into back canals and possibly hide. With the centerboard down, it can handle seas of 10 to 12 feet.
"He can go wherever he wants to go, and hide out wherever he wants to hide out," said DeSanto.
"I don't know of a boat I'd rather be on to do a journey like that than a Morgan," said St. Pete Yacht broker Page Obenshain.
Obenshain should know. He actually helped design the Morgan 25 with its creator, Charlie Morgan, half a century ago, and sailed on the very first one ever produced.
The boat may be small, but with enough provisions it can travel the world, he said.
"They're overbuilt. Their built well. So the choice was excellent," said Obenshain.
On Monday, investigators still searching for the Hakkens and their two young sons released another, clearer picture of the Morgan 25 they were last seen on. It's blue with the name "Salty" and a paw print painted on the sides.
Detectives say Hakken bought the vessel a few weeks ago as part of what appears to be an elaborate getaway plan.
Jim DeSanto, who is also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, says he was out on the water Sunday with many others looking for the Hakken's boat.