Coast Guard intercepts Haitian sailing vessel off Florida Keys

An overloaded 60-foot Haitian sailing vessel aaproximatrely 25 miles northeast of Anguilla Cay, Bahamas, Jan. 9, 2021. The wooden sailing vessel was severely overloaded and operating without basic lifesaving equipment or navigation lights. (U.S. Coast Guard photo.)

An overloaded 60-foot Haitian sailing vessel approximately 25 miles northeast of Anguilla Cay, Bahamas, Jan. 9, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard photo.)

MIAMI — The Coast Guard intercepted and assisted in the rescue of 176 Haitians aboard an overloaded sail freighter Monday, in Key Largo, near Ocean Reef.

The vessel was initially detected by a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations flight crew approximately 25 miles northeast of Anguilla Cay, Bahamas. Sector Key West watchstanders diverted Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark’s crew to the location of the vessel.

Once the Paul Clark’s crew arrived on scene with the grossly overloaded vessel, they provided personal flotation devices to prevent the loss of life. The weather conditions on scene were 20 mph winds with 4-6 foot seas.

The wooden sailing vessel was also operating without basic lifesaving equipment or navigation lights.

Upon crossing inside the reef line, a Coast Guard Station Islamorada boat crew and federal law enforcement officers coordinated with their state and local law enforcement partners to take the people into custody.

“It is extremely dangerous to navigate the Florida Straits in an unseaworthy vessel, especially off the Florida Keys where the water is extra treacherous with shoals and reefs,” said Chief Warrant Officer James Kinney, command duty officer, Sector Key West. “Thanks to the quick coordination among so many different agencies, no lives were lost during this interdiction.”

It was reported that 10 Haitians were brought to a local hospital due to symptoms of dehydration.

The Coast Guard routinely returns persons interdicted at sea aboard unseaworthy vessels to their country of origin to prevent the loss of life at sea.

Other partners who also assisted with the case:

  • U.S. Border Patrol
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Miami Dade Fire Rescue Department
  • Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
  • Ocean Reef Fire Department

Since Oct. 1, 2021, Coast Guard crews have rescued 557 Haitians compared to:

  • 1,527 Haitian Migrants in Fiscal Year 2021
  • 418 Haitian Migrants in Fiscal Year 2020
  • 932 Haitian Migrants in Fiscal Year 2019
  • 609 Haitian Migrants in Fiscal Year 2018
  • 419 Haitian Migrants in Fiscal Year 2017

Once aboard a Coast Guard cutter, all persons receive food, water, shelter and basic medical attention. Throughout the interdiction, Coast Guard crew members were equipped with personal protective equipment to minimize potential exposure to any possible case of COVID-19.

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