A capsized vessel off the Florida coast has the U.S. Coast Guard searching for 39 missing migrants, after finding a single survivor on Tuesday.
The boat was found capsized early Tuesday morning by a pleasure boater, with a single man clinging to the hull. He was 45 miles out to sea, East of Port Pierce. He told his rescuer that the boat had been carrying 40 people when it left the Bahamian island of Bimini late Saturday night.
Overnight Saturday into Sunday, the seas in that area were not friendly. There was a small craft warning in effect, with winds up to 23mph and waves as high as 9 feet. There were also fierce rain squalls, which are sudden rain accompanied by high wind.
The survivor was taken to a hospital to be treated for dehydration and exposure. The Coast Guard has not described his nationality, but has stated they suspect the capsized vessel was involved in human smuggling. Migrants from Haiti and Cuba, or less commonly Colombia and Ecuador, often use the Bahamas as a last departure point to reach U.S. shores.
Many boats used for such smuggling operations are far from seaworthy, being stolen, salvaged, or handmade. They’re also usually dangerously overloaded, to maximize profits for the person running the operation. This makes them prone to failure and capsize.
The Coast Guard is patrolling an area nearly the size of Rhode Island with four ships and five aircraft since Tuesday morning. But the survivor said that no one aboard wore life jackets, so chances of recovery are slim.
Earlier this week, the Coast Guard removed 88 Haitian migrants from a dangerously overloaded sail freighter in nearly the same location. They could very easily have met with the same fate.
“Navigating the Florida straits, Windward and Mona Passages… is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said last weekend. They also run campaigns warning potential migrants of the dangers of un-seaworthy boats.