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Coast Guard ends search for bodies from capsize off Florida

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US Coast Guard personnel stand on the deck of a cutter in Miami, Florida, as the military branch has searched for some 35 people missing since January 23, 2022 when the boat they were traveling on capsized./AFP
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Jan 28, 2022 - 07:42 AM

MIAMI — The United States Coast Guard ended its search for over 30 missing people on Thursday, after a boat capsized off the Florida coast last weekend in a suspected human smuggling tragedy.

Search teams had earlier recovered five bodies from around 40 people who were on the boat, before Coast Guard captain Jo-Ann Burdian announced the rescue operation had been called off.

The decision was made “with much regret” after taking into account the weather conditions, the absence of life jackets on the boat and the time elapsed since the incident, Burdian said in a statement.

The Coast Guard sounded the alarm morning after a man clinging to a capsized vessel was rescued on Tuesday.

He told authorities he had left the Bimini Islands in the Bahamas on Saturday with 39 others, none of whom were wearing life jackets.

As the search proceeded this week, hopes for the missing people — stranded in cold Atlantic waters with no life jackets or supplies — dwindled with Burdian saying on Wednesday there was little hope of finding survivors.

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

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.

Hazardous voyage 

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.

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