Coast Guard ends search after finding bodies of 5 migrants from capsized boat
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The Coast Guard said Thursday it had recovered the bodies of five migrants from a suspected human smuggling boat that capsized last weekend off the coast of Florida, but would suspend its search for the more than 30 passengers still missing.
At a news conference in Miami Beach, Florida, officials said four of the five bodies had been recovered in the past day as crews searched the northern Florida Straits and only one survivor was found. was located earlier in the week.
With no additional information that could help Coast Guard crews narrow the search field, effort leaders said they had no choice but to make the difficult decision to cancel searches.
Capt. Jo-Ann F. Burdian, commander of the Coast Guard’s Miami Sector, said the search would end by sundown Thursday.
“That means we think it’s unlikely anyone else survived,” Captain Burdian said.
She emphasized, “Now that doesn’t mean the Coast Guard is closing this case. It means that we won’t be devoting assets specifically to this research.”
The 25-foot boat had left Bimini, Bahamas on Saturday evening but encountered severe weather as it approached the Florida coast, capsizing about 45 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet, according to the coast guard.
About two days passed before rescuers learned of the maritime disaster, which underscored the dangers associated with the prevalence of maritime migration – and the desperation of those who depend on often overcrowded and fragile boats. No one on the boat was wearing a life jacket, authorities said.
Anthony Salisbury, a Miami Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent, told the news conference that a criminal investigation was continuing into the human smuggling operation linked to the boat.
“The purpose of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed business,” Constable Salisbury said.
Officer Salisbury urged anyone with information about the human smuggling operation or anyone who may have had a family member on the boat to contact federal investigators.
“So please help us bring to justice the criminals who exploit and victimize the vulnerable migrant community,” he said. “We don’t want anyone doing this to other migrants anymore. It’s something dangerous.”
Rescuers learned of the ship’s sinking on Tuesday morning when a yachtsman, described as a good Samaritan, found a man clinging to the boat’s hull, the coast guard said.
A photo posted by the Coast Guard on Twitter showed the man straddling the hull.
Captain Burdian said three ships and eight aircraft were used in the search.
“We saturated the area again and again,” said captain Burdian. “The weather is deteriorating somewhat.”
The search effort came after at least 31 people were rescued from the water last Friday when their boat capsized five miles west of Bimini, according to the Coast Guard and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.
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