Search for survivors in smuggler boat tragedy to be suspended

A massive search for 34 people still missing from a boat that capsized in the Florida Straits on Saturday will be put on hold until sunset Thursday after a US Coast Guard official said there were likely no another survivor.

At a press conference on Thursday, Captain Jo-Ann Burdian, commander of the Miami Coast Guard, said four more bodies had been recovered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to five bodies recovered since. that the coast guard launched a search on Tuesday morning. .

Only one of 40 people believed to have been aboard what investigators suspect was a human smuggling vessel was found alive clinging to the boat’s hull, officials said.

Burdian said search and rescue teams have scoured the Florida Strait from the southern tip of the state to Port Canaveral in the north and have yet to find evidence of survivors. She said crews saturated an area as large as Massachusetts “again and again and again.”

“That means we don’t think it’s likely anyone else survived,” Burdian said.

Burdian said the survivor, whose name has not been released, told investigators no one on the overturned vessel was wearing a life jacket.

The capsized 25-foot boat was discovered around 8 a.m. Tuesday about 40 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet in Florida by a commercial tug barge operator.

The survivor told investigators a total of 40 people were on board the boat when it capsized in rough sea conditions after launching from Bimini Island in the Bahamas on Saturday night, Burdian said.

Joshua Nelson, operations manager of the tug barge that rescued the man, said the survivor told the crew his sister was on the boat and among those missing. Nelson, who was not on the barge belonging to Signet Maritime Corp. when the rescue was made, told ABC News his crew reported the man was dehydrated and “was very malnourished and very distraught.”

Tony Salisbury, the Miami Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent, said the investigation into the boat tragedy is ongoing.

Salisbury said investigators have interviewed the survivor of the incident, adding that “we currently consider him a victim”.

He declined to comment on the origins or nationalities of those believed to have been on the ship.

“The purpose of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed enterprise,” Salisbury said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard says a sailboat suspected of being part of a human smuggling operation was intercepted at 1 a.m. Tuesday about 40 miles southwest of Great Inagua, Bahamas. . Officials said the boat was filled with 191 Haitians and no one on board had life jackets.

“The Coast Guard maintains a constant 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,” said Lt. David Steele, Coast Guard Liaison Officer to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. “These extremely overloaded vessels operate without proper safety equipment and are not built for these dangerous voyages.”

Since October, Coast Guard crews have rescued 802 Haitians attempting to sail from points in the Caribbean to points in South Florida. In 2021, the Coast Guard rescued 1,527 Haitians who attempted to make the treacherous journey.

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