The US Coast Guard has launched a search for 39 people reported missing when a boat capsized off the coast of Florida in a “suspected human smuggling venture.”
Coast guard personnel in Miami on Tuesday said that it had received a report “from a good Samaritan” who rescued a man “clinging to a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles [72km] east of Fort Pierce Inlet [Florida].”
The survivor said that the boat left Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday night, and had encountered rough weather before it capsized.
Photo: EPA-EFE / US Coast Guard Handout
“According to the survivor, no one was wearing a life jacket,” the statement said.
“Coast Guard air-and-surface asset crews are actively searching for people in the water. This is a suspected human smuggling venture,” the coast guard wrote on Twitter.
The coast guard later wrote that air-and-surface crews would “continue to search throughout the night” for the missing people.
It released an image showing the capsized vessel in the water with a man straddling on the hull.
The survivor was taken to a hospital to be treated for dehydration and sun exposure, it added.
Human smugglers are known to use the Bahamas as a departure point for transporting people — many from other Caribbean countries, such as Haiti — to the US.
The International Organization for Migration said that about 5,000 Haitian migrants work legally in the Bahamas, but that 20,000 to 50,000 of their compatriots are in the country illegally.
Bimini, the westernmost district of the Bahamas and its closest point to the mainland, is about 217km from Fort Pierce Inlet.
On Friday, 32 people were rescued after a boat capsized about 8km west of Bimini in another suspected human smuggling attempt, the US Coast Guard and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force said.
The US Coast Guard wrote on Twitter that its vessels patrol the waters around Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas to “ensure the safety of life at sea.”
“Navigating the seas in overloaded and less than seaworthy vessels is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” it added.
Spikes in the number of people trying to reach the US from the Caribbean have accompanied upheavals in the region.
US authorities have seen an increase in migration from Cuba by sea in the past few months.
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