MIAMI —- The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Jan. 27 it was no longer conducting rescue operations after a boat carrying asylum seekers capsized about 45 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet on Florida’s Atlantic coast four days earlier.
A lone survivor was found clinging to the boat on Jan. 25. Five bodies have since been located and twenty-four individuals remain unaccounted for. According to the survivor, the boat originated in Bimini, a chain of Bahamian islands located about 55 miles from Miami.
“We have saturated the area over and over again,” said Coast Guard Capt. Jo-Ann F. Burdian at a press conference. “It does mean we don’t think it’s likely that anyone else has survived.”
Although the nationalities of those onboard have not yet been revealed, the route from Bimini to Florida is common for both Haitian and Cuban asylum seekers.
On Jan. 26, the Coast Guard located another boat close to the Bahamas with 191 Haitians onboard.
The number of Haitian refugees traveling by boat has increased recently, according to the Coast Guard. Since October, 800 Haitians have been found on vessels off the Florida Straits. This is an increase compared to the 3,900 Haitians that were found over the past five years.
Earlier this month, 176 Haitian asylum seekers were found on an overloaded wooden boat near the Florida Keys. On Jan. 4, thirty-six Haitians, including 10 women and two children, were intercepted at sea and detained while trying to enter the Bahamas.
Last year, at least 10,000 Haitians seeking refuge were intercepted by authorities in different countries across the Latin America and Caribbean region and sent back to Haiti.
The Coast Guard said that the route commonly taken from the Bahamas to Florida can be dangerous and those who undergo the journey are at risk.
“In cases like this, small vessels, overloaded, inexperienced operators, at night in bad weather can be incredibly dangerous,” said Burdian.