Boat Carrying Cuban Migrants Overturns, Killing 2 and Leaving Up to 10 Missing
Eight people were rescued by the Coast Guard, which said that the boat ran into trouble about 18 miles southwest of Key West, Fla., officials said.,
KEY WEST, Fla. — Two people were killed and as many as 10 others were still missing on Friday after a boat carrying Cuban migrants overturned Wednesday night off Key West, Fla., according to the authorities, who said that eight of the vessel’s passengers had been rescued from the water.
A Coast Guard cutter had been patrolling in the area, about 18 miles southwest of Key West, when it encountered some of the boat’s passengers in the water around 1 p.m. Thursday, said Petty Officer Jose Hernandez, a Coast Guard spokesman.
It was not immediately clear what type of boat was involved.
“There was no vessel,” Petty Officer Hernandez said. “The people were found in the water.”
Sheriff Rick Ramsay of Monroe County said that 20 Cubans were originally on board the boat that sank. Six Coast Guard ships, four planes and two helicopters were still searching for the lost migrants on Friday, Sheriff Ramsay said.
The Coast Guard said the search would continue throughout the day, with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
All 10 people thought to be missing are believed to be in the water, and no one has been located since the original eight were rescued, Petty Officer Hernandez said Friday morning.
The survivors said that they had left Puerto de Mariel, Cuba, on Sunday and had capsized sometime on Wednesday evening, according to the Coast Guard. On Thursday night, they remained aboard a Coast Guard cutter, where they were receiving food, water and basic medical attention, officials said.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Steckbauer, said only one of the two bodies taken to his office had been identified. People have been calling the office to inquire whether the men were family members, Dr. Steckbauer said.
At just 90 miles from Cuba, the Florida Keys have been a frequent passageway for Cubans trying to make it to the United States. But Coast Guard officials have warned about the perils of making the journey.
In a separate episode on Saturday, someone called the authorities to alert them to nearly a dozen people aboard a raft off Marathon, about an hour north of Key West. When the Coast Guard reached the vessel, they found one of the Cubans aboard was already dead. His son told officials that the raft had flipped over at the start of the trip, and they lost their food, water and medication.
“The dangers of traveling through the Florida Straits cannot be overstated,” Chief Warrant Officer Matt James, commanding officer, Station Islamorada, said in a statement earlier this week. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the man who died as a result of losing critical medicine for a reported pre-existing condition during the capsizing.”
The U.S. Coast Guard has captured nearly 300 Cubans at sea since the start of the fiscal year in October, the agency said. It was the largest surge since 2017. Last fiscal year, just 49 Cubans were caught trying to migrate to the United States.
The surge in migrants coming from Cuba is a sign of worsening conditions on the island, experts said. The country recently unified its dual currency, which caused the value of the local peso to plummet. Food scarcities are the worst in decades.
In the past, critics said that the number of Cubans found at sea was a direct result of the special legal immigration status they enjoyed once they reached U.S. soil. Those privileges were revoked under the Obama administration, but a larger number of Cubans have also been apprehended in recent months along the U.S. border with Mexico.
On Monday, 21 Cubans interdicted were sent back to Cuba by the Coast Guard. Earlier Thursday, eight Cubans were repatriated after being spotted aboard a rustic green raft.
“Migrant interdiction patrols help save lives by deterring dangerous illegal migrant activity and removing migrants from dangerous environments,” Capt. Michael Gesele, Coast Guard District Seven chief of enforcement, said in a statement Thursday referring to the earlier episode.