A body was discovered, and the search for 38 people missing from a boat that capsized off the coast of Florida was continuing Wednesday across a swath of the Atlantic Ocean the size of New Jersey.
The search began Tuesday after sailors on a passing barge discovered a man clinging to a capsized boat, according to Coast Guard Captain Jo-Ann Burdian. The man, who was being treated for dehydration and sun exposure, told authorities that the 25-foot boat, which had sailed from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida on Saturday night, had encountered severe weather.
Human smuggling, according to Burdian, is suspected. She claimed that no one on board wore a life jacket.
“It is dire the longer they remain in the water,” Burdian said. “Without food, without water, the sun, the sea conditions. … Every moment that passes it becomes much more dire and more unlikely that someone could survive.”
The sailors who discovered the survivor alerted the Coast Guard, and a contingent of planes, helicopters, and ships began searching. According to Burdian, an aircraft spotted what appeared to be a body and directed a cutter to collect the remains. Searchers were looking for debris fields that were “consistent” with the tragedy, according to Burdian.
She stated that finding the other migrants alive was the top priority, but added that “we can’t search forever.”
The man was discovered clinging to the boat 45 miles east of Fort Pierce, which is located on the Atlantic Coast about 125 miles north of Miami. The boat, according to the man, left the island of Bimini, about 50 miles east of Miami, on Saturday night. In good weather, ferries can make the trip in about two hours. Officials said on Twitter that they are searching from Bimini to the Fort Pierce Inlet.
A small craft advisory was issued by the Coast Guard as a severe cold front blew through the dangerous passage Saturday and Sunday, with winds up to 23 mph and swells up to 9 feet high. According to Tommy Sewell, a local bone-fishing guide, there were 20-mph winds and heavy rain squalls on Sunday and Monday.
“Navigating the Florida Straits, Windward and Mona Passages… is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said last weekend in a statement.
The Coast Guard has not revealed the nationality of the missing migrants, but human smuggling is a recurring issue in the region. The Coast Guard discovered 88 Haitians in an overloaded sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas, on Friday. The majority of those making the journey are from Haiti and Cuba, but the Royal Bahamas Defense Force has reported apprehending migrants from other countries, including Colombia and Ecuador earlier this month.
Migrants have long used the Bahamas as a stopover on their way to Florida and the United States. They usually try to take advantage of weather breaks to make the crossing, but the ships are frequently dangerously overloaded and prone to capsizing.
Thousands of people have died over the years, and those are just the tragedies that authorities are aware of. The full cost will never be known. The Coast Guard patrols the waters off the coasts of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
In December, at least 53 Central American migrants were killed when their cargo truck rolled over and crashed into a bridge in Mexico. Mexican authorities are looking into the collision, which occurred in the state of Chiapas, the first state migrants enter after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico.
Last March, 13 migrants suspected of illegally entering the country were killed when an SUV carrying 25 people from Mexico and Guatemala collided with a truck near the US-Mexico border in California.