Florida Keys

Lighthouse Cubans send ‘S.O.S.’ message in a bottle

Lawyer for Cuban migrants plucked from lighthouse calls for probe

Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the Cuban migrants who took refuge at the American Shoal lighthouse in the Florida Keys and are now being repatriated, speaks outside federal court on Thursday, June 30, 2016, in Miami.
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Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the Cuban migrants who took refuge at the American Shoal lighthouse in the Florida Keys and are now being repatriated, speaks outside federal court on Thursday, June 30, 2016, in Miami.

An “S.O.S.” letter asking for help was seemingly thrown overboard by two dozen desperate Cuban migrants aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship as they waited for a judge to decide their fate.

According to new details revealed in court, a recreational fisherman in Key West came across the message in a bottle Tuesday.

Inside was a two-page handwritten letter from the 24 migrants alleging mistreatment aboard the 278-foot Coast Guard Cutter, including violence from Coast Guard personnel.

The letter was read in court Thursday and included allegations that they were being served “food for dogs” and described conditions on the Cutter as “hell.”

Coast Guard officials are said to be internally investigating those allegations.

Attorneys for the migrants renewed their request to be able to speak to them aboard the Cutter, even if only by telephone or radio.

“We want some form of access,” said Kendall Coffey, one of eight lawyers representing the migrants.

Dexter Lee, the attorney for the U.S. government, said that type of access should be denied because the migrants are in international waters.

Lee added that none of the 24 migrants had an urgent medical condition.

On Thursday, Judge Darrin Gayles said he would rule at a later time on whether the attorneys for the migrants may speak with them and if a full hearing is appropriate.

For now, the U.S. Coast Guard is free to repatriate the migrants to Cuba at any time.

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