MIAMI (AP) — Six men and two pregnant women from Cuba have been rescued off the Florida coast after their makeshift boat capsized following 16 days at sea, the latest in a series of U.S. interdictions of Cubans in distress, authorities said Tuesday.
The capsize and interdiction was captured on video Sunday by authorities, whose rescues of the past few weeks appear to follow a rise in Cuban refugees seeking to reach the United States.
The Coast Guard said that 114 Cuban migrants were interdicted between October 2019 and September 2020 by the agency and other U.S. law enforcement forces. Since October 2020, more than 90 Cuban migrants have been interdicted, according to the agency.
It was not immediately clear whether the apparent uptick has been due to deteriorating economic conditions in Cuba or some other reason such as migrants expecting changes in immigration policy under the new Democratic administration of President Joe Biden.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office said it received reports of a distressed vessel floating near the shore in Waveland Beach, north of West Palm Beach, Sunday after sunset.
A helicopter found the vessel and coordinated with the neighboring county’s sheriff to send first responders. Images shared on Facebook by the Martin County Sheriff’s Office captured the vessel — fashioned from styrofoam and metal rods — taking on a large wave and overturning. The occupants could be seen emerging from the ocean to grab at the vessel.
Witnesses told news outlets that the boat was powered by a car engine left uncovered at the bottom of the boat.
All eight aboard were rescued and taken to local hospitals, where they were reported in stable condition. Sheriff officials said the eight are now in the custody of federal authorities, who will determine their immigration status.
Just in the past week, the U.S. Coast Guard has announced two groups of Cubans were interdicted at sea while traveling in a raft and in a small boat.
On Sunday, the Coast Guard rescued five Cuban men traveling in a raft wrapped with a black tube. They were two miles (three kilometers) southeast of the Lake Worth Inlet, near the Port of Palm Beach.
And last Wednesday, the Coast Guard said, seven Cubans who spent six days at sea were stopped 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach in a 15-foot (4.5-meter) vessel made of wood and aluminum that had no motor.
Both groups were repatriated.
The reports follow a rescue earlier this month of three Cubans who capsized and survived 33 days on coconut water, shellfish and rats on a deserted island south of Florida.