Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.
United States Coast Guard spokesman Ensign Peter Bermont said a boater spotted the migrants’ blue raft near Alligator Reef Light about 1 p.m. Crews from Coast Guard Station Islamorada and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded to the area, which is off the ocean side of Upper Matecumbe Key.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol boat picked up several Islamorada Fire-Rescue firefighters who were gathered at Coast Guard Station Islamorada and sped offshore of Plantation Key around 1:30 p.m.
The seven sick Cubans were brought to Station Islamorada and will be able to stay in the United States under the federal government’s “wet-foot, fry-foot” policy, Bermont said. Typically, that policy applies to Cuban migrants who make it to shore before being stopped by authorities.
Islamorada Fire-Rescue Chief Terry Abel said the migrants were taken to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier for treatment.
The other nine were brought to a Coast Guard cutter and will be repatriated to Cuba, Bermont said.
Heavy rains soaked the Upper Keys on Wednesday, which made the last leg of the migrants’ journey all the more dangerous.
“The weather deteriorated pretty quickly while they were out there,” Bermont said.