Makeshift vessel found off Florida coast as search goes on for 10 Cuban migrants

BILL HUTCHINSON
·4 min read

U.S. Coast Guard officials said there were no signs of 10 Cuban migrants believed to be on a rickety homemade boat last seen floating in the water off the Florida Keys.

As the search for the missing migrants continued on Monday, the Coast Guard announced that it has suspended a second ocean rescue effort for six people who also vanished over the weekend off the Florida coast.

Both searches began on Friday.

On Sunday evening, the Coast Guard announced on Twitter that a good Samaritan boater found a "six-foot makeshift vessel" floating in the water empty about eight miles south of Long Key, Florida. Photos of the vessel were posted on the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami's Twitter page. The vessel appeared to be crudely constructed and made out of Styrofoam blocks and wood.

PHOTO:  A vessel located approximately 8 miles south of Long Key, Fla. was recovered and is pictured in an image posted to the U.S. Coast Guard official Twitter account on Feb. 15, 2021. The boat was used by 10 people who went missing south of Key West. (U.S. Coast Guard/Twitter)
PHOTO: A vessel located approximately 8 miles south of Long Key, Fla. was recovered and is pictured in an image posted to the U.S. Coast Guard official Twitter account on Feb. 15, 2021. The boat was used by 10 people who went missing south of Key West. (U.S. Coast Guard/Twitter)

The 10 people believed to have been aboard the vessel left Havana, Cuba, on Friday, and went missing somewhere off the coast of Key West, authorities said. Coast Guard officials said it remains unclear what caused the watercraft to vanish.

Prior to the vessel being located off Long Key, Coast Guard search planes and boats were scouring the area off the coast of Key West for signs of life on Sunday. Key West is a little over 80 miles from Havana.

PHOTO: A vessel located approximately 8 miles south of Long Key, Fla. is pictured in an image posted to the U.S. Coast Guard official Twitter account on Feb. 15, 2021. The boat was used by 10 people who went missing south of Key West.  (U.S. Coast Guard/Twitter)
PHOTO: A vessel located approximately 8 miles south of Long Key, Fla. is pictured in an image posted to the U.S. Coast Guard official Twitter account on Feb. 15, 2021. The boat was used by 10 people who went missing south of Key West. (U.S. Coast Guard/Twitter)

A separate search for six people missing in the waters off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida, was suspended late Sunday night.

The rescue effort was also launched on Friday after a good Samaritan found a man described as a Jamaican national alive 23 miles off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida.

PHOTO: The U.S. Coast Guard continues to search for 6 missing persons near the Fort Pierce area as well as 10 missing persons near the Key West area. (U.S.C.G. Southeast via Twitter)
PHOTO: The U.S. Coast Guard continues to search for 6 missing persons near the Fort Pierce area as well as 10 missing persons near the Key West area. (U.S.C.G. Southeast via Twitter)

"The survivor reported to the Coast Guard that there were six other people who were in the water after their boat capsized Wednesday after they departed from Bimini, Bahamas," Coast Guard officials said in a statement, adding that the man spent two days in the water before he was rescued.

It remained unclear on Monday where the boat was headed when it flipped over. Bimini is about 200 miles from Fort Pierce.

A 45-foot Coast Guard rescue boat was immediately sent to the scene, officials said. The rescue crew took the survivor to shore and transferred him to a hospital, officials said.

Capt. JoAnn Burdian, commander of Coast Guard Sector Miami, said the search was suspended after rescue crews, including a Florida Wing Civil Air Patrol crew, spent more than 140 hours searching 10,694 miles of ocean.

"The decision to suspend a search-and-rescue case is never one we come to lightly," Burdian said in a statement. "We offer our deepest sympathies to the friends and families of those involved during this difficult time."

The two searches came just days after the Coast Guard rescued three Cuban nationals located on a deserted Bahaman island, where officials said the men spent 33 days living off coconuts. The men told Coast Guard officials that their vessel capsized in rough waters and that they swam to the deserted island, officials said.

Coast Guard officials say they have seen a recent increase in rescue operations involving Cuban nationals attempting the treacherous journey to seek asylum in the United States.

On Feb. 8, a Coast Guard crew intercepted a makeshift wooden sailboat containing eight Cuban migrants in the waters off Key West after a boater spotted them and contacted authorities. A Coast Guard crew and agents from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol responded to the scene and rescued the seven men and one woman aboard the vessel, officials said.

They were all returned to Cuba, according to a statement from the Coast Guard.

On Jan. 12, seven Cuban nationals were rescued by Coast Guard and Border Patrol agents after their small wooden vessel sank off the Florida Keys. All of those rescued survived and were returned to Cuba, officials said.

Since Oct. 1, the Coast Guard said it has intercepted or rescued 58 Cuban migrants attempting illegal voyages to the United States across the Florida Straits.

“The Coast Guard and our partner agencies will continue to rescue and repatriate undocumented migrants who take to the sea in unseaworthy vessels without safety equipment or a way to call for help," Lt. Cmdr. Mario Gil, Coast Guard liaison officer to Cuba, said in a statement last week. "Voyages like these are never worth the risk. The Florida Straits waters are unpredictable and the risk for loss of life is great on vessels such as this."

Makeshift vessel found off Florida coast as search goes on for 10 Cuban migrants originally appeared on abcnews.go.com