A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Seven were unresponsive and taken by boat to Mariners Hospital in nearby Tavernier. Their conditions are not known. The other nine were taken to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, said Chief Ryan Doss, spokesperson with the U.S. Coast Guards 7th District.
Initial reports said the people had been out to sea for 10 days on the boat that appeared to be only about 12- to 15-feet long. The past few days in the Keys also have been stormy, with rough seas.
The migrants, some wearing yellow life jackets, were first spotted about 12:15 p.m. by a boater, who notified local authorities.
The seven Cubans who were brought to shore will be able to stay in the United States under the federal government’s wet-foot, dry-foot policy. The other nine who were taken to a Coast Guard cutter will be repatriated, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ensign Peter Bermont told The Reporter.
Under the nearly two decades old wet-foot, dry-foot policy, Cubans who reach land can remain in the United States, while those caught at sea are returned to Cuba.