Coconut Grove

Empty migrant raft lands in Dinner Key Marina

A rustic vessel drifted into Dinner Key Marina over the weekend.
A rustic vessel drifted into Dinner Key Marina over the weekend. For the Miami Herald

It's not something you see every day at a major Miami marina — a makeshift boat likely used by migrants and made of Styrofoam, wood and a blue tarp.

On the side — the letters USCGOK (standing for the United States Coast Guard Okay) in bright orange.

Allen Cox, who was on his own boat, snapped a photo of the vessel Sunday morning. He spotted the raft — which he said was falling apart — in Dinner Key, not far from Miami City Hall at 3500 Pan American Dr. in Coconut Grove.

“It just looked out of place,” said Cox, who reported the raft to the Coast Guard, which checked the boat and determined that it already had been cleared.

Cox said the juxtaposition of the ramshackle raft with fancy boats was striking.

“The first thing I did was take out my binoculars to look for anybody on board,” he said. He didn’t see anyone.

How the raft landed at the marina is a mystery.

Jon-Paul Rios, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said the graffiti-like spray-paint markings mean that Coast Guard crews encountered the vessel and checked it to make sure there were no people on it or missing. The Coast Guard now uses a different symbol — a circle with a slash through it — to mark that it is clear.

But the Coast Guard doesn’t have an easy way to look back on when this boat was checked and whether the people on board made it to shore or were repatriated.

Rios said once crews clear boats like this one, they leave them in the water or sink them. Sometimes the unseaworthy crafts go under themselves, drift or just fall apart. Coast Guard crews can order rafts to be towed, but because most of them are made of random materials it’s not always possible, Rios said.

“If it’s made of foam it’s almost impossible to sink,” Rios said. “We mark it so that we know that if it does wash up we know it’s clear.”

Since Oct. 1, the Coast Guard 7th District, which serves the Miami coast, estimates that 2,562 Cubans have attempted to illegally migrate to the U.S. by sea.

Earlier this month 58 Cuban migrants were repatriated after seven separate interception in the Florida Straits. On Saturday, 26 rafters were intercepted at sea off Key West, with seven suffering from gunshot wounds.

On Monday morning, 24 more migrants were spotted by a boater in the Keys.

Carli Teproff: 305-376-3587, @CTeproff