The story of the latest migratory drama in the United States, exemplified in the photo of a man adrift perched on the remains of a shipwreck, closes this Thursday at sunset. The Florida Coast Guard has decided to end the search for new victims at sea at that time after finding four more bodies in the last hours, which are added to the one notified this Wednesday. There are still 34 migrants to locate.
Forty left Saturday from Bimini, a chain of islands in the Bahamas about 55 miles (88 kilometers) east of Miami. They were on a barge eight meters long bound for the United States. A storm surprised them during the crossing, which they had undertaken without life jackets on board. On Tuesday, a private boat spotted about 70 kilometers from the port of Fort Pierce, Florida, the figure of a man, whose nationality was not initially disclosed, on the skeleton of a boat. It was then that the Coast Guard began searching an area of approximately 135 miles (218 kilometers), an area that the authorities compared to that of the “State of New Jersey.”
National Security investigators cited by the AP agency have reiterated the initial suspicions this Thursday: that the case is being treated as a human smuggling operation. “Our goal is to identify, arrest and prosecute the criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed enterprise,” said Officer-in-Charge Anthony Salisbury. Federal law provides for the death penalty for these crimes, if they involve the death of people.
Coast Guard Captain Jo-Ann F. Burdian, in command of the operation, explained that the decision to call the search impossible was not an easy one: “We have combed the area over and over again. We had good visibility and we know we are looking in the right area. We have found more dead. And that makes us think that there are probably no survivors.”
According to calculations by the authorities, the only passenger found alive at the moment was about 160 kilometers from where the boat is believed to have capsized. The Gulf Stream, whose apparently placid waters are feared by sailors, pushed it north.
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If the death of the rest of his travel companions were confirmed, it would be one of the most serious migratory tragedies in recent years in the Caribbean. Since 2014, at least 967 migrants have disappeared in these waters, according to the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM).
According The Washington Post, the Coast Guard has rescued 802 Haitians and 586 Cubans since last October 1. The comparison of these figures with those of the total for the year (1,527 Haitians and 838 Cubans) gives an idea of the increase in the use of these routes to reach the United States. It is also a problem that does not only affect the East Coast. Last May, at least four people died and another 25 were injured after a boat capsized off San Diego, in southern California.
According to the IOM, around 5,000 Haitians work legally in the Bahamas. Between 20,000 and 50,000 are found illegally in the archipelago of 700 islets (39 of them inhabited), located 80 kilometers southeast of the Florida coast, close to Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. The country is often used as a springboard by those who want to reach the United States.
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