Coast Guard suspends search for migrants off Florida

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Coast Guard said it suspended rescue operations as of sundown Thursday after announcing earlier in the afternoon that it had found four additional bodies in its search for dozens of migrants lost at sea off Florida.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Coast Guard said it suspended rescue operations as of sundown Thursday after announcing earlier in the afternoon that it had found four additional bodies in its search for dozens of migrants lost at sea off Florida.

Homeland Security Investigations officials said they are actively investigating the case as a human trafficking operation.

Authorities have now found a total of five bodies, leaving 34 missing five days after the ship capsized en route to Florida from Bimini, a chain of islands in the Bahamas about 88 kilometers east of Miami.

Coast Guard Capt. Jo-Ann F. Burdian said earlier that the decision to suspend the search was not easy.

“We saturated the area again and again,” she told a news conference. “We had good visibility. … We flew over the ship several times. … That means we don’t think it’s likely anyone else survived.

The Miami office of Homeland Security Investigations has launched an investigation, saying the migrants’ trip was most likely part of a human smuggling operation. Under federal law, a smuggler convicted of causing death can be executed.

“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,” said Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge of HSI. Miami.

Salisbury declined to give information on the nationalities of the boat’s passengers, but said investigators considered the lone survivor “a victim at this time”, not a suspect. Salisbury appealed to the public for advice to help identify who organized the boat crossing.

“Please help us bring to justice the criminals who exploit and victimize the vulnerable migrant community,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to do it again. … It’s dangerous.”

The lone survivor was found clinging to the 25-foot (7-meter) vessel about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off Fort Pierce, Florida. He told a Good Samaritan and authorities that the boat capsized late Saturday after he and 39 others left for Florida from Bimini.

Authorities said the boat was found about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of where it capsized, apparently pushed by the Gulf Stream, a warm, fast current that wraps around the Florida peninsula and sinks the along the Atlantic coast of the United States. No one was wearing a life jacket, the rescued man told authorities.

The Gulf Stream can be treacherous even on a calm, sunny day. Add an overloaded boat, inexperienced sailors, stormy weather and the darkness of night, and they can become deadly.

A small craft advisory was issued on Saturday and Sunday as a severe cold front with winds of up to 23 mph (37 km/h) blew through the dangerous passage, creating swells of up to 9ft (3 meters).

Adriana Gomez Licon, Associated Press




























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