Coast Guard repatriates 232 Cuban migrants

The Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton, a 418-foot Legend Class Cutter, arrives in Miami Nov. 11, 2014. The Hamilton is the Coast Guard's fourth National Security Cutter homeported in Charleston, S.C. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Mark Barney)MIAMI — The Coast Guard repatriated 232 Cuban migrants to Bahia de Cabañas, Cuba, since Sept. 22.

The Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton crew repatriated 56 Cuban migrants Sept. 22; the Coast Guard Cutter Isaac Mayo crew repatriated 63 Cuban migrants Saturday; the Sexton crew repatriated 59 Cuban migrants Tuesday; and the Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge crew repatriated 54 Cuban migrants Friday.

These repatriations are a result of 19 separate at-sea migrant interdictions in the South Florida Straits. In each instance, the Coast Guard helped secure the U.S. border and prevented these sea voyages from ending in tragedy.

The 418-foot Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton, the first East Coast National Security Cutter, was part of two of the 19 migrant interdictions that took place this week. The Hamilton brings a unique and modern compliment of capabilities to the law enforcement mission and interdiction operations for the Coast Guard.

“Attempts of illegal migration on the ocean are often perilous voyages that result in the loss of many lives,” said Capt. Scott Clendenin, Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton commanding officer. “While our mission is to detect and deter illegal migration, it is also to save the lives of those attempting these deadly voyages aboard unseaworthy vessels before tragedy strikes.”

The Coast Guard has observed a steady increase in illegal maritime migration attempts to the Southeastern U.S. from Cuba. Since Oct. 1, 2015, the Coast Guard 7th District estimates that 7,358 Cubans have attempted to illegally migrate via the sea compared to 4,473 in fiscal year 2015. Today marks the end of this fiscal year with a 65 percent increase in Cuban migration flow compared to the 2015 fiscal year. These numbers represent the total number of at-sea interdictions, landings and disruptions in the Florida Straits, the Caribbean and Atlantic.

As Hurricane Matthew strengthens over the Caribbean region the risk for any boat, especially unseaworthy vessels, is magnified.

“We continue to stress that safety of life at sea is our utmost concern,” said Capt. Mark Gordon, chief of enforcement, 7th Coast Guard District. “The dangerous waters of the Florida Straits can be unforgiving for the unprepared on ill-advised and illegal voyages. It can be even more dangerous especially during this time of year with tropical storms and hurricanes forming in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Migrants who choose to board unseaworthy vessels put their lives at severe risk with very little chance of success.”

Once aboard a Coast Guard cutter, all migrants receive food, water, shelter and basic medical attention.

Gordon added, “We strongly discourage anyone from taking to the sea and attempting to reach U.S. soil illegally.  Immigration policies have not changed, the Coast Guard’s missions have not changed. Migrants interdicted at sea will be returned to their country of origin in accordance with immigration laws.”

The Hamilton, the fourth cutter commissioned in the Legend-class fleet, is homeported in Charleston, South Carolina.

The cutters Sexton and Mayo are 154-foot fast response cutters homeported in Key West.

The cutter Etheridge is a 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in Miami Beach.

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