Search after boat capsized ends with 34 missing, 5 bodies, lone survivor

MIAMI – Four additional bodies have been recovered in the past 24 hours from the Atlantic Ocean after a suspected migrant boat capsized over the weekend, bringing the confirmed death toll to five, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Thursday.

Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, Coast Guard Sector Miami commander, said they have made the difficult decision of suspending the search at sunset unless they receive “additional, specific information” that can narrow their search.

“We have saturated the area over and over again,” she said. “We’ve had good visibility. … We’ve overflown the vessel a number of times. … It does mean we don’t think it’s likely that anyone else has survived.”

Burdian said so far they have searched an area about the size of Massachusetts.

According to Coast Guard officials, 40 migrants headed out to sea Saturday night from Bimini in The Bahamas, but their 25-foot boat capsized a short time later.

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Officials said the lone survivor was found on Tuesday morning about 45 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet by a Good Samaritan who was aboard a commercial vessel.

He was taken to a hospital and treated for dehydration and sun exposure.

According to officials, the man said he and 39 others had left Bimini in The Bahamas Saturday night, but they encountered bad weather, causing their boat to capsize.

The first body to be found in the water was brought to shore Wednesday morning.

The lone survivor told authorities that no one was wearing a life jacket.

“Without life jackets, anyone is disadvantaged to survive in the water. Life jackets save lives, no matter the circumstance,” Burdian said Wednesday.

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Officials said although the migrants left from Bimini, their nationalities have not yet been verified.

The Miami office of Homeland Security Investigations has launched an inquiry, saying the migrants’ journey was most certainly part of a human smuggling operation. Under federal law, a smuggler convicted of causing a death is eligible for execution.

“The goal of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed venture,” said HSI Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury.

“Please help us bring criminals who prey on and victimize the vulnerable migrant community to justice,” he added. “We don’t want anybody doing this again. … This is dangerous stuff.”

The Coast Guard urges anyone who believes they had a family member on board the boat to call their Sector Miami station at 305-535-4300.

Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com – All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed information to this report.


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