Four US citizens claim they are being held as 'hostages' in the British Virgin Islands after they accidentally sailed illegally into the territory's waters last month.
John Hines, his partner Lynn Hines, and their friends Nicholas Cancro and Jeanne McKinnon were detained on November 19 by customs and immigration officers, according to a statement from the British Virgin Islands' Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
US citizens are currently banned from entry due to coronavirus restrictions and the statement claimed that the four detainees had been placed into a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a local hotel, financed by the government.
Yet, the Americans argue they've been held 'without cause' for 12 days and are being housed together in one bug-infested room where even the sink has fallen off the wall.
John Hines, partner Lynn Hines, and friends Nicholas Cancro and Jeanne McKinnon were detained on November 19 by customs and immigration officers in the British Virgin Islands
The group claim they were traveling from St. Thomas to St. John Island when they accidentally crossed 1.5miles into BVI's waters and were turning around when they were detained
John and Lynn Hines, from South Carolina, say that they were traveling from St. Thomas to St. John island with their two friends when their boat accidentally went 1.5miles into BVI waters.
They claim that they noticed the mistake and turned around but that customs agents had already spotted the vessel and approached them.
'This is where they took our passports and all the boat's documentation and then stated that you are being charged with trying to enter the country illegally, not coming to a port of entry and they carry two $10,000 fines,' Lynn Hines told WJLA.
The couple says that only their friend Cancro, the boat owner, has been provided with a charge sheet since they were placed in the hotel and that they have been fed differing information about who is overseeing their case.
'Every time we go into the hallway, the security guards are right on top of us get back in the room,' Lynn stated.
'We were told that customs was not handling the case, that Immigration was handling the case. Then, it was immigration's not handling the case, now the prosecutor's handling the case. Every day this week, we've been told you're going to go in front of the court system today. Hasn't happened.
'Please make the people aware why you're doing what you're doing, especially people like us who really didn't break any law at least on purpose,' she added to WSOC. 'We should at least be able to be heard and tell someone what's going on.'
'All I want is an answer. Why are you keeping us? And they won't tell us.'
A picture taken by Lynn Hynes as they were detained on November 19
The group claim only Nicholas Cancro has been given a charge sheet as the boat owner
They also allege that the boat owner attempted to pay the $20,000 fines with a credit card but that the customs officers would only accept cash.
'We are hostages being held for ransom and not being charged. The only one charged is the boat owner. We have been informed because we were on the boat we were also in territorial waters and being detained,' says John Hines.
The detainees had been due to appear in court on Tuesday to determine if charges would be brought against them, BVI officials said, but the date has been pushed back to later this week, according to WJLA.
The couple say that they have reached out to South Carolina senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott for help.
Lynn Hines's sister Sue Carlin said that she was concerned about the outcome.
'They are not trying to make an issue of this. They just want to get out. Pay the fine and get out and they were basically told unless you have cash, we can't do anything for you except set up court,' Carlin claimed.
'I am very concerned as I have seen the conditions of the accommodations they were given for their detainment. I don't understand why my sister and brother-in-law who were not charged are being held with no real resolution.'
Lynn and John Hines, pictured together, have called on South Carolina senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott for help. The US embassy in Barbados is also involved
The group shared these pictures of the moments in which they were detained
However, the BVI Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions refuted all the Americans' claims in their statement Sunday.
They said that 'all four persons are safe and are being cared for' and that charges against them would be decided once they get to court.
'Nicholas Cancro, John Hines Jr, Lynee Ann Hines and Jeanne McKinnon were on board a vessel that entered the Territorial waters without permission from the Ministry of Health and the Chief Immigration Officer, while the Territory’s Borders remain closed,' said the statement.
'The matter was submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution on the 27th November, 2020 by the Commissioner of Customs at 11:15 a.m., following which the matter was processed and forwarded to the Magistrates' Court via the Police Prosecution Unit, for an urgent hearing date.'
They also warned that the territory had to right to apprehend anyone who breaks its laws and that the accusations being circulated by the Americans 'are without merit'.
The British Virgin Islands' Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions hit back in a statement on Sunday, telling the public that the four Americans had entered the territory illegally
The US state department has said it is aware of the case and are assisting.
'We are aware that U.S. citizens Lynn Hines, John Hines, Jeanne McKinnon, and Nicholas Cancro were detained in the British Virgin Islands on charges of illegal entry/failing to present themselves at an authorized port,' the department told WJLA.
'We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are providing all appropriate consular services. We remain in communication with the detained U.S citizens.'
According to the US Embassy there a currently no commercial flights into BVI and U.S. citizens should reconsider travel there.
All visitors to the island are expected to quarantine for 14 days. The four detained Americans have only complete 12 days of the quarantine so far.
The embassy also advises that private or commercial vessels are prohibited from operating within the territorial waters, except where such person is approved by the Governor.
The BVI reopened their borders on December 1 with restrictions in place.
The territory has had 72 confirmed cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.