U.S. Coast Guard search finds one body, 38 still missing after boat capsizes off Florida
Incidents of overturned or interdicted vessels crowded with people, many of them Haitians or Cubans seeking to reach the United States, are not uncommon in the waters off Florida. "There's (been) an increase in these human smuggling organizations trying to smuggle individuals into the United States" over the last year, Anthony Salisbury, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, said in a telephone interview.
Rescue teams have found one body and are searching for 38 other people reported missing after their boat capsized off Florida's coast, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Wednesday, an incident that is being treated as a human smuggling attempt gone awry. Coast Guard Commander Jo-Ann Burdian said during a news conference in Miami that search and rescue efforts would continue for survivors.
"We do suspect that this is a case of human smuggling, as this event occurred in a normal route for human smuggling," Burdian said. On Tuesday at around 8 a.m., crew members of the tugboat Signet Intruder spotted the overturned boat and could see "there was somebody who was pretty distraught on the vessel," said Joshua Nelson, operations manager for the Jacksonville Fleet of Signet Maritime Corp, which owns the tug.
"We were towing a very large barge that was roughly 2,500 feet behind us, so it (took) a little finesse to get close enough to the vessel and not cause any waves to knock the man off," Nelson said in a telephone interview. The crew immediately alerted the Coast Guard, Nelson said.
The nationalities of those on board have not been released. The survivor told authorities he had left the Bahamas' Bimini islands, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Miami, in a boat with 39 other people on Saturday night, the Coast Guard said in a statement posted online.
According to the survivor, the group's vessel capsized on Sunday morning when it hit rough weather about 45 miles (72 km) east of Fort Pierce Inlet, off Florida's Atlantic coast about midway between Miami and Cape Canaveral, but no one was wearing a life jacket, the Coast Guard said. The survivor was taken to a hospital for treatment of dehydration and sun exposure.
The accident coincided with a small-craft advisory posted for the area, with steady winds clocked at up to 23 miles (37 km) per hour and 9-foot (3-meter) seas, according to the Coast Guard. "Their decision to take to the sea is a complicated one. Certainly, the waters in the northern Florida Straits can be quite treacherous," Burdian said. "In cases like this, small vessels, overloaded, inexperienced operators, at night in bad weather can be incredibly dangerous."
Through Wednesday morning, Coast Guard cutter crews, helicopter teams, search planes and a U.S. Navy air crew crisscrossed an area spanning more than 7,500 nautical miles (13,890 km) about the size of Rhode Island, between Bimini and Fort Pierce Inlet, the statement said. Incidents of overturned or interdicted vessels crowded with people, many of them Haitians or Cubans seeking to reach the United States, are not uncommon in the waters off Florida.
"There's (been) an increase in these human smuggling organizations trying to smuggle individuals into the United States" over the last year, Anthony Salisbury, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, said in a telephone interview. "These human smuggling organizations, you're dealing with criminals. ... They really prey on the migrant community."
At least 557 Cuban migrants in all have been picked up at sea by the Coast Guard since October, in addition to nearly 7,400 Cubans interdicted during the previous five years, according to the agency. Vessel crossings by Haitian migrants have likewise grown more frequent as the Caribbean nation deals with economic and political crises, as well as gang-related kidnappings.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)