Vieques, Puerto Rico Carrying signs reading "Navy Out!" fishermen and protesters in nine speedboats Saturday invaded restricted waters off of Vieques Island, stalling U.S. Navy bombing exercises that have drawn the criticism of residents and politicians.
Reporters watched from a boat outside of restricted waters as the speedboats raced toward the Navy's firing range, passing within 500 feet of several amphibious personnel carriers that were shuttling equipment and Marines to a beach in preparation for mock invasion exercises. Two warships were about 3 miles away.
Although security ships chased the boats out of the restricted waters, the fishermen managed to pull up to the range and drop a group of protesters off, three of whom were detained by authorities. The boat chase stalled ship-to-shore shelling for about three hours.
Anti-Navy activists said at least 19 people were hiding on the range but Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Goode said the Navy was "confident the range was clear" and that bombing exercises had resumed.
"They are continually putting the lives of protesters at risk," said Robert Rabin, an anti-Navy activist. "They have been lucky and we have been lucky that no one has gotten killed."
Since this round of exercises began Thursday, at least 28 people have been detained for allegedly trespassing on federal property.
"This is a war that we have had with them for 60 years," said Jose Garcia, a 39-year-old fisherman. "My grandfather, father and my uncle all fought the same war, and the Navy hasn't been able to put us down. The fishermen are the biggest headaches that they have."
The fishermen, who say the waters around the bombing range are rich with conch, lobster and red snapper, are prohibited from fishing in the restricted areas during the Navy exercises.
Fishing is among the most important sources of income on Vieques.