MIAMI – A boat trip that began as a routine charter to the Bahamas turned horribly wrong somewhere on the high seas when four crew members vanished and the two men who hired the vessel were plucked out of a life raft.
Kirby Logan Archer and Guillermo Zarabozo are in custody on federal charges while rescuers conduct a massive search in heavy rain for the crew of the 47-foot fishing charter Joe Cool. Neither Archer, who was a fugitive, nor Zarabozo is charged in the disappearances.
“All I can say at this point is that the investigation is continuing,” FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said.
The pair were found in a life raft Monday about 12 miles from where the fishing boat was drifting. Authorities found no one on board and no mechanical problems with the vessel.
A key to some handcuffs was found on the boat, and a substance appearing to be blood was found on the vessel’s stern, according to an FBI affidavit.
Archer and Zarabozo paid $4,000 cash to charter the Joe Cool on Sunday to Bimini, Bahamas, where they told the boat’s operators they had female companions waiting for them. The Coast Guard says that GPS navigation devices on the boat show that it veered sharply south toward Cuba about halfway into the 50-mile trip.
Zarabozo, 19, of Hialeah, is a Cuban immigrant. Archer is a former soldier once stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Archer, 35, of Strawberry, Ark., is wanted in his home state on suspicion of stealing more than $92,000 in January from a Wal-Mart where he was an assistant manager. He also went AWOL from the Army four years ago.
Both men made initial court appearances Wednesday. Archer is charged with fleeing prosecution in Arkansas. Zarabozo is charged with lying to federal agents.
According to the FBI affidavit, Zarabozo initially told his Coast Guard rescuers that “unknown subjects” had hijacked the boat, shot and killed the four crew members and then ordered Zarabozo to throw the bodies into the sea. Zarabozo later told the FBI he had never been on the Joe Cool, even though his state identification card was found on the boat.
The vessel was found “in disarray,” according to the affidavit. It said that aside from the apparent blood and the key, investigators found six marijuana cigarettes on the boat, as well as a laptop computer, luggage, clothes and a cell phone.
Archer and Zarabozo were being held without bail at a federal detention center in Miami. Neither the FBI nor the Coast Guard would comment on what they have told investigators.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard ships and aircraft searched hundreds of miles of open ocean in heavy rain for the boat’s captain, Jake Branam, 27; his wife, Kelley Branam, 30; his half brother, Scott Campbell, 30; and Samuel Kairy, 27, all of Miami Beach.
“The weather is very, very nasty,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Dana Warr. “It makes searching very difficult, both in the air and the sea.”