MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Ten people were found clinging to the hull of a small boat that capsized early Wednesday off South Florida, trapping the bodies of four dead women and one survivor in a tiny pocket of air beneath it.
The fifteen people appeared to be making a perilous journey that thousands try each year. Migrants from Haiti, Cuba and other Caribbean countries routinely attempt to illegally enter the U.S. by reaching Florida’s coast in overloaded or unseaworthy vessels, often through established smuggling networks that include islands in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.
Early Wednesday, one of the survivors called 911 on a cellphone, alerting authorities to their location seven miles east of Miami.
“Sadly, and tragically, we did find four females, adults, underneath the boat that had perished,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Darren Caprara.
The survivor found when Coast Guard officials flipped over the boat was suffering seizures, and he was taken by boat to a Miami Beach hospital, officials said. He was treated and released to federal law enforcement.
The rest of the survivors were in good condition and were taken into custody aboard a Coast Guard vessel while authorities investigated whether they were part of a human smuggling operation. It was not immediately clear whether they would be brought to the U.S. or sent back to their home countries.
“Well, obviously, 15 people on a boat, transiting in the middle of the night with no life jackets is a very, very unsafe condition,” Caprara said.
Caprara said that authorities were working to confirm that the people on the boat were Haitian and Jamaican.
“That’s still a lengthy process that involves contacting other countries and doing some investigatory research,” Caprara said.