39 missing after boat capsizes off Florida’s Atlantic coast

Jan 26, 2022: 

U.S. Coast Guard rescue workers are searching for 39 people in Florida’s Atlantic Ocean waters who have been reported missing for days after a human trafficking boat capsized.

The rescue effort was launched after a good Samaritan alerted the Coast Guard early on Tuesday following the rescue of a man clinging to the mostly submerged hull of the boat after it hit bad weather about 72km east of the town of Fort Pierce, the maritime security agency reported on Twitter.

The Coast Guard added that the survivor told authorities he had left the Bahamas with 39 others on Saturday night, and that no one in the party was wearing life jackets. Vessels and airplanes have been deployed to search the area, which stretches from Bimini to Fort Pierce, to search for the missing. The Coast Guard said it viewed the incident as a suspected human trafficking case.

The nationalities of those aboard have not yet been determined. Immigrants have long used the Bahamas as a stepping stone to reach Florida and the United States, with the Bimini Islands just 80km (50 miles) east of Miami.

Smugglers usually try to make the crossing by taking advantage of the weather breaks, but ships are often dangerously overloaded and at risk of capsizing. Thousands have died over the years. The latest accident happened last week after another unfortunate crossing when authorities rescued 32 people whose boat capsized west of Bimini, Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Jose Hernandez told Reuters news agency. Most people trying to cross come from Haiti and Cuba.

Risky as these crossings from Haiti are, they have also grown more frequent as the Caribbean island nation deals with economic and political crises, as well as gang-related kidnappings with the US Coast Guard said it had intercepted at least 159 Haitian nationals this fiscal year.

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