Coast Guard crews intercept 17 Cuban migrants spotted near Elliott Key

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - A large group of Cuban migrants who tried to reach land near Elliott Key via a makeshift sailboat surrendered at sea to U.S. Coast Guard crews.

At around 12:45 p.m., Tuesday, 17 Cuban migrants, including three women, were seen on board a vessel from 7 Skyforce HD. Though the boat was equipped with an engine and a sail, it wasn’t enough for them to reach the shore before a passing boater contacted authorities.

On Monday night, it was a different story for 16 Cuban nationals. Ten men and six women made it to Boca Chita Key and were allowed to stay under the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy.

Officials suspect that their arrival was part of a smuggling operation. “We definitely have seen a big increase in the migrant flow numbers this year,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Eric Woodall.

The Coast Guard has reported 5,899 encounters with Cuban migrants in the current 2016 fiscal year, with a little more than a month still left to go. This is compared to 4,473 in 2015 USCG fiscal year and 3,940 in the 2014 fiscal year. Since January, about 44,000 Cuban migrants have traveled to the U.S.

The journey to reach American soil has become more desperate in recent months for Cubans. On July 21, authorities appeared to fire tear gas into a boat of migrants near Key Biscayne.

“Often times we see this,” said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Gabe Somma. “They refuse to stop for the Coast Guard. They refuse to take life jackets from the Coast Guard.”

That group in July eventually surrendered to the Coast Guard, like the migrants who were intercepted at sea on Tuesday.

At first, the migrants tried to gesture Coast Guard officials to leave them be, but that’s when two Coast Guard vessels pushed in close enough to stop the boat. Homeland Security and Miami-Dade Police boats were also nearby.

A man on board the boat was also seen gesturing to the stomach of one woman, as if to say she was pregnant.

The migrants were trying to paddle to shore, the closest of which may have been two and a half miles to the west, at Elliott Key. They ultimately dropped the paddles and took life vests from Coast Guard crews and began climbing on board the U.S. vessel.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there has been a significant increase in the number of Cuban migrants who attempt to get to the U.S. by sea.

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