Miami-Dade County

Coast Guard still searching for 2 missing Cuban rafters; another group at sea

A Miami Dade Fire Rescue helicopter pulls two men from the waters off Sands Key following reports that several Cuban migrants were spotted floating with little support.
A Miami Dade Fire Rescue helicopter pulls two men from the waters off Sands Key following reports that several Cuban migrants were spotted floating with little support. WSVN 7

The Coast Guard continued its search Tuesday for two missing Cuban rafters, part of a group of 13 men that left days ago from Cojimar, on Cuba’s northern coast about 340 miles east of Havana.

On Tuesday, activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, head of the Democracy Movement, said a man who identified himself as the father of one of the 13 was desperately trying to find his son at area hospitals and with the Coast Guard.

Sánchez said there was also a second boat that has not yet arrived or been heard from carrying 23 Cuban rafters — 22 men and a woman — who departed from the port of Mariel about eight days ago. The Coast Guard said it has not heard reports of another group of Cuban rafters.

The latest incidents are part of a growing number of Cuban rafters who have arrived on South Florida shores or have been interdicted in waters of the Florida Straits in the last 12 months.

According to the Coast Guard, 2,059 Cubans were intercepted at sea in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, or 702 more than the fiscal year before. About 814 Cubans reached shore during the same time period, an increase from 359 who made it to the United States the previous year.

The majority of Cuban migrants who arrive in the United States without a visa cross the border from Mexico. So far this year, 16,247 Cubans have arrived via the border, according to figures released recently by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The latest incident unfolded Monday around 10 a.m. Monday when the captain of a private boat called the Coast Guard to report people in the water desperately clinging to remnants of what seemed like a raft or makeshift boat.

Ultimately, three Cuban migrants were plucked from the waters by rescue helicopters dispatched by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. They were taken to area hospitals for medical treatment. Five other migrants were rescued by the Coast Guard and taken to a Coast Guard cutter offshore. Two other rafters swam safely to shore at Elliot Key, near Key Biscayne. That left three rafters unaccounted for.

Late Monday, a good Samaritan located a person in the water near Fowey Rocks Light. The person in the water was rescued and transferred to a Coast Guard crew. They brought the man ashore for medical treatment.

On Tuesday, Sánchez told el Nuevo Herald that he had been in contact with Lázaro Allegue in Miami who said his son Adríán was one of the 13 rafters in the makeshift boat that broke apart Sunday night in Biscayne Bay near the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in South Miami-Dade.

Sánchez said Lázaro Allegue did not know whether his son was among the two missing, those taken to area hospitals for medical treatment, those held aboard a Coast Guard cutter or those processed by the Border Patrol after they reached land.

Under a system currently in place, the Coast Guard provides information on Cuban rafters to the offices of Cuban-American federal lawmakers.

But Sánchez said that system has resulted in rolls of red tape. He called Tuesday for the Coast Guard to overhaul the system and allow relatives of rafters to inquire directly by faxing a picture of their loved to the agency to check if a loved one was in custody.

Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy now in effect, Cuban migrants who are interdicted at sea are generally returned to the island — although some are taken to the U.S. Navy base in Guantánmo if they have a fear of persecution if returned. Cuban migrants who reach shore are allowed to stay.

Separately, Sánchez said another member of the Cuban exile community had called him Tuesday to inquire about a second Cuban migrant boat carrying 22 men and one woman. Sánchez said the boat had left eight days ago from Mariel, a Cuban seaport west of Havana, from where more than 125,000 Cuban refugees left for the United States in 1980.

“The people are worried because they have not heard from these migrants,” Sánchez said.

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