Rescuers searching for 39 people off Florida coast after boat capsizes in suspected 'human smuggling' incident

·3 min read

The U.S. Coast Guard said rescue crews are searching for 39 people whose boat capsized off the Florida coast in a possible human smuggling mission.

Coast Guard officials got a report from a "good Samaritan" who rescued a man clinging to a capsized boat about 45 miles of Fort Piece Inlet, the Coast Guard tweeted. The survivor said he left Bimini, Bahamas with 39 other people Saturday night.

The survivor said the group ran into severe weather, causing the boat to capsize, according to a Coast Guard statement.

The survivor also said no one aboard was wearing life jackets.

LATEST UPDATES: What we know about the possible human smuggling incident

A cold front late Saturday brought rough weather to the Bimini area. Tommy Sewell, a local bonefishing guide, said there were 20-mph winds and fierce squalls of rain on Sunday into Monday.

This handout image, provided by the US Coast Guard on January 25, 2022, shows a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce inlet, Florida. - The US Coast Guard has launched a search for 39 people reported missing when a boat capsized off the coast of Florida in what it said was a "suspected human smuggling venture."
This handout image, provided by the US Coast Guard on January 25, 2022, shows a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce inlet, Florida. - The US Coast Guard has launched a search for 39 people reported missing when a boat capsized off the coast of Florida in what it said was a "suspected human smuggling venture."

Migrants have long used the islands of the Bahamas as a steppingstone to reach Florida and the United States. They typically try to take advantage of breaks in the weather to make the crossing, but the vessels are often dangerously overloaded and prone to capsizing. There have been thousands of deaths over the years.

The Coast Guard patrols the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas.

On Friday, the Coast Guard found 88 Haitians in an overloaded sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas.

“Navigating the Florida straits, Windward and Mona Passages ... is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said in a statement last weekend.

On their own in the middle of a blizzard: Baby among 4 found dead near US, Canada border

Crews are still searching as of Tuesday afternoon, with several aircraft searching from the Bahamas to the Florida coast.

No other survivors or bodies have been found so far. The Coast Guard said in a statement that a "human smuggling venture" is suspected.

Human smuggling tries many different ways to bring illegal immigrants over the border, including people packed in trucks and boats. The past year has seen some of the most horrific cases of human smuggling deaths in recent years.

In December, as least 53 migrants from Central America died when their cargo truck rolled over and crashed into a bridge in Mexico. Mexican officials are investigating the collision, which happened in the state of Chiapas – the first state migrants enter after crossing the Guatemalan border with Mexico.

Back in March 2021, 13 migrants suspected of entering the country illegally were killed when an SUV carrying 25 people from Mexico and Guatemala collided with a semitruck in California near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Already this year, the northern U.S. border with Canada saw two adults and two minors, including an infant, die in a blizzard following a failed border crossing attempt.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A possible human smuggling operation may have left 39 people in the waters off the Florida Coast

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting