Coast Guard Rescues 21 Cubans, Apprehends 2 Migrant Smugglers

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus turned over custody of 21 Cuban migrants to Department of Homeland Security federal agents at the San Juan Harbor Pier Eight, at approximately 9 a.m. today, following an air rescue of the migrants from Monito Island on Monday.

Two Dominican suspected smugglers were also interdicted Sunday by the crew of the Matinicus after having dropped-off the migrants on Monito Island. The suspected smugglers were transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents at the Mayaguez pier, yesterday.

The migrants, allegedly smuggled illegally into Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic aboard a 25-foot wooden yola, were located by the crew of a Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action F.U.R.A. fixed-wing aircraft, at approximately 4:18 p.m. Sunday. The yola was in the process of dropping-off the migrants when detected by the F.U.R.A. aircraft.

The Coast Guard cutter Matinicus was dispatched and interdicted the suspected smugglers at 5 p.m. Sunday, approximately four nautical miles northwest of Monito Island. The suspected smugglers had already dropped-off the migrants and were heading back to the Dominican Republic when they were interdicted.

Coast Guard controllers Monday launched two HH-65 Dolphin helicopters from Air Station Borinquen to rescue the migrants from Monito Island. Rescue by helicopter was deemed safer than an attempt to transfer the migrants to rescue boats.

The Coast Guard helicopter aircrews used their rescue baskets to hoist the migrants one at a time. When four to six migrants were aboard, the crews then transported the migrants to Mona Island, until all 21 were safely transported.

One of the Coast Guard helicopter crews conducted an emergency landing on Mona Island after the helicopter suffered a hydraulic leak during the transfer of four migrants. No members of the aircrew or migrants aboard the aircraft were injured during the emergency landing. The second Dolphin helicopter crew conducted four additional migrant runs to Monito Island and safely transferred the remaining 17 migrants to Mona Island.

Once on Mona Island, the migrants were transferred to Mayaguez were they were interviewed aboard the Matinicus by ICE agents. After the interviews of the migrants and suspected smugglers had been completed yesterday the Matinicus turned over custody of the suspected smugglers to the ICE agents in Mayaguez. The Matinicus continued the voyage to San Juan were they transferred the remaining 21 migrants to ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations Inspectors today.

Monito Island is an uninhabited island two and a half nautical miles northwest of Mona Island, Puerto Rico. It is inaccessible by sea and is a subdivision of the municipality of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus is a 110-foot patrol boat home ported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Source: D7 Office of Public Affairs

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