Coast Guard ending search for bodies from capsize off Florida

January 28, 2022 People's Journal 132 views

AFP, January 28, 2022 — The US Coast Guard said Thursday it will soon call off the search for dozens of people missing from a boat that capsized off Florida last weekend in a suspected human smuggling tragedy.

Search teams have recovered five bodies, from around 40 people who were on the boat, according to the military branch.

Coast Guard captain Jo-Ann Burdian said that if the force does not receive new information to narrow its search, active search efforts will end at sunset Thursday.

“Unfortunately we’ve come to the most difficult time in any search and rescue case and that is the point at which we decide when to cease actively searching,” Burdian told a news conference.

Four of the bodies were recovered in the past 24 hours. One person is known to have survived.

The Coast Guard sounded the alarm Tuesday morning after receiving a report from a commercial boat that had rescued that man clinging to a capsized vessel.

As the search proceeded this week, hopes for the missing people — stranded in cold Atlantic waters with no life jackets or supplies — dwindled.

The boat left Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday and capsized the next morning after hitting rough seas 45 miles (65 kilometers) east of the city of Fort Pierce, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.

Burdian has said the failed journey was considered a suspected human smuggling venture, as it occurred along a route commonly used for such clandestine trips from the Bahamas to the United States.

The one man who survived said there were 39 other people onboard and no one was wearing a life jacket.

Human smugglers are known to use the Bahamas — a group of islands near the Florida coast — as a jumping off point for getting people, many from other Caribbean countries such as Haiti, into the United States.

Bimini, the westernmost district of the Bahamas and its closest point to the US mainland, is approximately 130 miles from Fort Pierce Inlet.

Late Tuesday the Coast Guard intercepted a sail freighter packed with 191 people, reportedly all Haitian, 40 miles southwest of Great Inagua in the Bahamas, due to “safety of life at sea concerns.”

“The Coast Guard maintains a persistent presence patrolling the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, to help prevent loss of life on the high seas,” David Steele, Coast Guard liaison officer at the US Embassy in Haiti, said in a statement.

“These grossly overloaded vessels operate without proper safety equipment and are not built for these hazardous voyages.”

On Friday, 32 people were rescued after a boat capsized five miles west of Bimini in another suspected human smuggling attempt, according to the US Coast Guard and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

Spikes in the number of people trying to reach the United States from the Caribbean have accompanied upheavals in the region.

US authorities noted an increase in migration from Cuba by sea in recent months. In July, the country saw scores of demonstrations triggered by economic strife, medical and food shortages and anger at the government.