Coast Guard rescues 176 Haitians from overloaded sailboat off Florida

KEY LARGO, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard pulled 176 Haitians from an overloaded, unseaworthy wooden sailing vessel as it approached the Florida Keys, officials said.

The rescue effort unfolded on Monday after a flight crew with Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations spotted the 60-foot vessel some 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Anguilla Cay, Bahamas, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

The crew of the Cutter Paul Clark provided personal flotation devices to those onboard the boat, which didn't have basic life saving equipment or navigation lights, officials said. A crew from the Coast Guard station in Islamorada then worked with federal, state and local law enforcement officers to take the people into custody. Ten were brought to a hospital with symptoms of dehydration.

“It is extremely dangerous to navigate the Florida Straits in an unseaworthy vessel, especially off the Florida Keys where the water is extra treacherous with shoals and reefs,” said Chief Warrant Officer James Kinney. “Thanks to the quick coordination among so many different agencies, no lives were lost during this interdiction.”

The group of Haitians will be processed for removal proceedings and transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CPB spokesman Alan Regalado said.

The Coast Guard routinely returns people interdicted at sea to their country of origin. Coast Guard crews have already rescued 557 Haitians three months into the current fiscal year. That's up sharply from last year, when 1,527 Haitians had been rescued by year's end. The agency said 418 Haitian migrants were rescued in 2020, 932 in 2019, 609 in 2018 and 419 in 2017.