Coast Guard suspends search for missing 34 people off Florida coast

Coast Guard Cutter Ibis' crew searching for 39 people off Fort Pierce Inlet, Florida, Jan. 25, 2022. A good Samaritan reported to Sector Miami watchstanders at 8 a.m. that he had rescued a man clinging to a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Coast Guard Cutter Ibis’ crew searching for 39 people off Fort Pierce Inlet, Florida, Jan. 25, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

MIAMI — The Coast Guard has suspended the search for the 34 people missing at sea from a capsized vessel, pending new information.

A good Samaritan reported to Sector Miami watchstanders, Tuesday, at 8 a.m. that he had rescued a man from a capsized 25-foot vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet.

The survivor was brought to a local hospital to be treated for symptoms of dehydration and sun exposure and was subsequently transferred to Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents for further investigation.

The survivor reported he left Bimini, Bahamas with 39 other people Saturday night and encountered severe weather, causing the vessel to capsize Sunday morning. The survivor also reported that no one in the group was wearing a life jacket.

Coast Guard rescue crews recovered five bodies during their search and rescue operation.

“Unfortunately, we have come to the most difficult time in any search and rescue case and that is the point at which we decide when to cease actively searching,” said Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, Coast Guard Sector Miami commander. “After careful consideration of all available information including weather conditions, number of people that went in the water without life jackets, time elapsed since the date of the accident, and an unrelenting search in an area bigger than Massachusetts, it’s with a heavy heart that I have decided to suspend the search”

“On Tuesday, Jan. 25, the United States Coast Guard contacted HSI to advise they had initiated a search and rescue operation on a suspected smuggling venture involving the loss of life,” said Anthony Salisbury, HSI in Miami special agent in charge. “HSI immediately responded and opened a parallel criminal investigation while the search and rescue mission was ongoing. As of right now this is still an ongoing investigation being pursued by HSI and its federal, state, local and foreign partners.”

Coast Guard cutter crews began searching at approximately 8:20 a.m., Tuesday, and searched more than 10,500 square miles.

Crews helping with the search:

  • Coast Guard Cutter Ibis crew
  • Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge crew
  • Coast Guard Cutter Skipjack crew
  • Coast Guard Station Fort Pierce 45-foot response boat-medium crews
  • Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircrew
  • Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater HC-60 Jayhawk Helicopter aircrew
  • Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater C-130 Hercules aircrew
  • Navy 2nd Fleet aircrew
  • Coast Guard Auxiliary Tiger aircrew

If you have any information or may have had a family member aboard this venture, please contact HSI’s tip line at 866-347-2423.

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