Coast Guard repatriates 35 Haitian migrants

Editors note: This story clarifies news reports concerning the Coast Guard’s role during an at-sea interdiction involving alleged migrant smugglers in command of an overloaded vessel with more than 100 Haitian migrants aboard.

MIAMI – The Coast Guard Cutter Reliance repatriated 35 Haitian migrants to Cap Haitien, Haiti, Wednesday, after a dangerously overloaded vessel with more than 100 Haitian migrants aboard was sighted by a Coast Guard aircraft and interdicted by the Coast Guard Cutters Key Biscayne and Venturous Monday.

All 35 migrants were safely transferred from the Venturous to the cutter Reliance and provided food, water and basic medical care before being repatriated.

The Key Biscayne responded to notification of a motor vessel, the Rosa Philomena, transiting north from Ile de La Tortue, Haiti, carrying more than 100 Haitian migrants. Once on scene, smallboat crews from the Key Biscayne handed out more than 100 life jackets to the migrants and talked to them via a Creole interpreter. A second cutter, the Venturous, arrived shortly thereafter and utilized a boarding team to safely remove 35 migrants who agreed to voluntarily leave the smuggling vessel. All but six of the remaining passengers originally agreed to disembark the vessel, however they began to refuse to disembark and the Rosa Philomena turned around and transited south toward Haiti.

Safety of life at sea is the Coast Guard’s number one priority. The migrants were allowed to remain aboard as the vessel transited back to Haiti after an assessment by cutter personnel concluded that the safety of the migrants was no longer in imminent jeopardy due to the proximity of the Haitian coastline, relatively calm seas and the presence of Coast Guard vessels. Smallboats from both cutters remained in plain sight and monitored the vessel throughout its transit back to Haiti while offering food, water, shelter and basic medical care to any migrant who desired to disembark.

Although general threats from the smugglers to the migrants were reported, at no time during this event did any migrants or the Creole interpreter mention the presence of weapons aboard the Rosa Philomena and the Coast Guard boarding teams never witnessed any weapons aboard the vessel.

“Intimidation and verbal threats by migrant smugglers are all too common,” said Capt. Peter Brown, response chief for the Seventh Coast Guard District. “However, on-scene Coast Guard personnel were not aware of the now-reported presence of weapons until after the migrant boat had returned to Haiti. We will continue to work with Haitian authorities to follow up on these reports and vigorously investigate migrant smuggling and associated crimes.”

The Reliance is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, N.H.
The Venturous is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Key Biscayne is a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in Key West, Fla.

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