KEY LARGO, FLA. (WSVN) - Authorities are investigating after, they said, about 350 Haitian migrants were spotted near a gated community in Key Largo, and nearly 160 of them jumped overboard and came ashore.
7SkyForce hovered above the migrants’ damaged boat after it ran aground in shallow water about a quarter a mile off the coast, near Ocean Reef Club, Sunday afternoon.
“All of their lives were at risk during this journey,” said Adam Hoffner, U.S. Border Patrol Acting Division Chief, Miami Sector. “It’s most definitely a notable sized group of migrants, especially on that type of vessel, 356 migrants on board a vessel that was not seaworthy and very dangerous conditions with the weather and the high winds, so they were fortunate to make it here.”
CBP agents and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to what CBP officials described in a tweet as “a maritime smuggling event that made landfall in Ocean Reef.”
“We do suspect that it may be a smuggling operation,” said Hoffner.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Key Largo Fire Rescue and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue units also responded to the scene.
CBP officials said 158 of the migrants attempted to swim to shore and were taken into border patrol custody.
Cellphone video captured some of the migrants who jumped in the choppy water and tried to swim ashore.
In a tweet posted Sunday night, CBP officials said many of the migrants are in need of medical attention. Three of them were transported to a nearby hospital.
“They were very fortunate to make this journey on that vessel, and again, without any safety gear, extremely dangerous, and then risking their lives to jump in the water to swim to shore,” said Hoffner. “Also very dangerous today, the weather conditions. The sea state, the high winds were terrible conditions out here for anyone to be in the water.”
7SkyForce showed many of the rescued migrants wrapped in towels given to them by staff at the Ocean Reef Club.
They were eventually questioned and taken into custody.
“Our U.S. Coast Guard partners will make a determination on the repatriation process, and that’s a coordinated effort among the Department of Homeland Security entities,” said Hoffner.
Officials said the children who were on board the boat were not hurt, and all of the remaining migrants made it off the boat and onto the cutter safely.
“They were safely transferred by the Coast Guard from their vessel to the cutter, at this time, where they remain,” said Hoffner.
Hoffner said there are 198 migrants on the cutter while 158 are in custody at a facility in Dania Beach.
“The journey from Haiti on a vessel of that nature was very risky and dangerous,” he said. “None of the migrants had safety equipment or life jackets or anything like that. Fortunately, we’re happy to report that there were no fatalities, and thanks to a quick response by all of our law enforcement partners, Monroe County and Miami-Dade, with Homeland Security, we were able to take quick action and ensure that nobody was injured on scene.”
Authorities did not find drugs or weapons on board the vessel, as they continue to investigate.
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