Coast Guard Interdicts, Repatriates 50 Migrants

MIAMI – The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Knight Island repatriated 50 Cuban migrants Monday who had been interdicted at sea in two separate events since Oct. 2.

On Oct.2, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine DASH-8 aircraft located two go-fast vessels, with a large number of persons aboard, traveling together 70 miles southeast of Key Largo, Fla. As the go-fast vessels got closer to Florida’s coastline a CBP Air and Marine Citation Jet was launched to relieve the DASH-8 and continue tracking the suspicious go-fast. A 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement vessel from Coast Guard Station Islamorada, Fla., was launched and the Coast Guard Cutter Sitkinak was diverted to intercept the go-fast boats. Two CBP Air Marine 39-foot Midnights Express, interceptor class boats, from Miami and Key Largo, were also dispatched to assist with the interdiction.

A CBP Air and Marine 39-foot Midnight Express stopped one of the fleeing go-fasts approximately 10 miles east of Key Largo. Aboard the boat were 14 Cuban migrants and two suspected smugglers. CBP agents took custody of the two suspected smugglers, transferred the Cuban migrants to the Coast Guard Cutter Shrike, and towed the go-fast to Key Largo. The Coast Guard Station Islamorada SPC-LE crew intercepted the second go-fast vessel with 20 Cuban migrants and two suspected smugglers aboard approximately 17 miles east of Key Largo. The Cuban migrants and suspected smugglers were transferred to the Cutter Shrike, which later transferred all 50 Cuban migrants and suspected smugglers to the Cutter Sitkinak. The two suspected smugglers were subsequently transferred to the custody of CBP agents in Key West, Fla., Friday.

“CBP Air and Marine assets are working closely with our partners to detect and intercept go-fasts off the coast of Florida that are dangerously overloaded with persons attempting to illegally enter the United States,” said Zachary Mann, senior special agent and spokesman for CBP in the Southeastern United States. “On any given night we run into alien smugglers and drug smugglers as we go about our mission to prevent terrorists from crossing our borders.”

An HH-65C Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Miami located a rustic vessel approximately 50 miles south of Key West, Wednesday. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sawfish was diverted, and once on scene, embarked 16 Cuban migrants.

As of Sept. 30, which is the end of the Coast Guard’s fiscal year, 7,422 Cuban migrants made a total of 517 attempts to illegally enter the United States from the sea. While the total number of migrants is up slightly from the 7,050 in fiscal year 2006, the number of events is down from 534 attempts in that same year. The numbers illustrate the continuing trend of using migrant smugglers and “go-fast” boats, with ever increasing numbers of migrants crammed into dangerously overloaded vessels.

In fiscal year 2007 the Coast Guard successfully stopped 220 of the 517 attempts by Cuban migrants to illegally enter the United States from the sea, while other border-security partner agencies stopped another 61 events, for a total interdiction rate of 53 percent by event, however, 57 percent of the total number of Cubans trying to illegally enter the United States from the sea were successful.

“We’re stopping the majority of vessels carrying undocumented migrants at sea,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil, public affairs officer for the Seventh Coast Guard District, “but when you have vessels loaded with 20, 30 or more migrants, one landing equates to a large number of undocumented migrants reaching land.”

Numbers for the last days of fiscal year 2007 are still being compiled, however, as of Sept. 27, go-fast vessels were involved in 54 at-sea interdictions, compared to 135 rustic vessel and 13 raft interdictions. An additional 111 go-fast boats were involved in disruptions of suspected migrant smuggling activity, and 180 go-fast boats were believed to have been involved in landings.

“The Coast Guard and its partner agencies need the help of the community to help stop migrant smuggling,” said O’Neil. “We will continue to aggressively patrol and interdict vessels at sea. We will arrest and bring to justice those persons engaged in or supporting migrant smuggling. Until the community stops hiring migrant smugglers or supporting their illegal activities, we will continue to witness the exploitation of migrants and the criminal activities associated with organized crime that is the face of migrant smuggling in South Florida. People who hire migrant smugglers, or who support their illegal and dangerous activities, are as responsible for migrant smuggling as drug users are for drug related crime on our streets; if there were no demand, there’d be no supply.”

The Cutter Kodiak Island is a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Cutter Sitkinak is a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in Miami.

The Cutter Shrike is an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in Port Canaveral, Fla.

The Cutter Sawfish is an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in Key West, Fla.

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