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Body found, 38 still missing from capsized migrant boat off Florida By Reuters
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Body found, 38 still missing from capsized migrant boat off Florida By Reuters
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© Reuters. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Ibis search for 39 people missing after their boat capsized in the Atlantic Ocean in what is being called a human smuggling attempt gone wrong, off Fort Pierce Inlet, Florida , January 25, 2022. Photo tak

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By Brian Ellsworth

MIAMI (Reuters) – Rescue teams have recovered a body, but hopes have faded for 38 others lost at sea over the weekend to a capsized boat off the coast of Florida during a an incident being treated as an ill-fated human smuggling attempt, the US Coast Guard said on Wednesday.

The search and recovery operation stretched into a second full day on Wednesday as the Coast Guard reported intercepting a separate sailboat off the Bahamas overloaded with 191 Haitian migrants believed to be heading for Florida.

Both incidents highlighted an increase in the number of migrants seeking to get to Florida in flimsy ships across the Caribbean via the Bahamas, a known hub for maritime human smuggling.

The Coast Guard said in a Twitter post (NYSE 🙂 that its crews would “continue to search through the night for missing persons” whose boat was reportedly overturned in rough seas Sunday morning by a lone survivor.

A Coast Guard spokesman, Petty Officer Jose Hernandez, acknowledged late Wednesday that the chances of finding someone else alive were diminishing but that officials would “reassess” the situation Thursday morning.

The survivor, found clinging to the overturned vessel on Tuesday, told authorities after his rescue that he was one of 40 people on board the boat when it left the Bahamas’ Bimini Islands, about 80km east from Miami on Saturday night. , the Coast Guard said.

The ship capsized the following morning about 72 km east of Fort Pierce Inlet, off the Atlantic coast of Florida, halfway between Miami and Cape Canaveral. According to the survivor, no one on board was wearing a life jacket.

Their nationalities were not disclosed. But Haitian migrant ship crossings have become more frequent as the Caribbean island nation faces worsening economic and political crises, as well as gang-related kidnappings.

“We suspect this is a case of human smuggling, as this event occurred on a normal route for human smuggling,” Coast Guard Commander Jo- Ann Burdian at a press conference in Miami.

SURVIVOR DESTROYED

The survivor was first spotted around 8 a.m. on Tuesday by crew members of a private tugboat who saw “there was someone who was quite distraught on the vessel”, said Joshua Nelson, Jacksonville fleet operations manager of Signet Maritime Corp, which owns the tug.

“We were towing a very large barge that was about 2,500 feet behind us, so it took a bit of finesse to get close enough to the ship and not knock the man off the waves,” Nelson said during of a telephone interview.

The crew immediately alerted the Coast Guard, Nelson said.

The accident coincided with a small craft advisory posted for the area warning of high winds and rough seas, according to the Coast Guard.

Thirty-two more people were rescued from an overturned vessel west of Bimini last Friday in another failed migrant crossing attempt.

“The waters in the northern Florida Straits can be quite dangerous,” Burdian said. “In cases like this, small vessels, overworked and inexperienced operators, at night in bad weather can be incredibly dangerous. »

Until Wednesday morning, Coast Guard cutter crews, helicopter crews, search planes and a US Navy crew scoured an area spanning more than 1,300 square miles ( 3,367 square km), about the size of Rhode Island, between Bimini and Fort Pierce Inlet, a Coast Guard release said.

Incidents of overturned or interdicted ships crowded with people, many of them Haitians or Cubans seeking to reach the United States, are not uncommon in the waters off Florida.

“There has (been) an increase in these human trafficking organizations” over the past year, Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations office in Miami, said during an interview. a telephone interview.

“These human trafficking organizations, you’re dealing with criminals,” Salisbury said. “They are really attacking the migrant community. »

Last May, 12 Cuban migrants died and eight were rescued after their boat capsized off Key West, Florida.

At least 557 Cuban migrants and more than 800 Haitians have been picked up at sea by the Coast Guard since October, in addition to nearly 7,400 Cubans and 3,900 Haitians banned in the previous five years, according to the agency.

Body found, 38 still missing from capsized migrant boat off Florida By Reuters
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