Thirty-three Cuban men were rescued from the water by U.S. Coast Guard crews Wednesday morning after they jumped off a boat that was taking on water off Boca Raton in southern Palm Beach County.
A Coast Guard spokesman said the incident occurred about seven miles east of Boca Raton in the Atlantic Ocean.
The rescue came two days after 13 Cuban rafters attempted to reach Miami in a makeshift boat that broke apart near the Turkey Point nuclear power plant. Eleven of the migrants were rescued or made it safely to land. The Coast Guard suspended its search for two more who were still missing Wednesday.
“Upon our assets arriving on scene, the suspected migrants were taken aboard a Coast Guard boat and safely transferred to a Coast Guard Cutter for basic medical attention if needed,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
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News of the 33 migrants in the water off Boca Inlet immediately raised questions about whether this was the second group of Cuban migrants said to be traveling to Miami from Mariel, a Cuban port west of Havana.
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of Miami-based Democracy Movement, said he was contacted by a member of the Cuban exile community Tuesday asking for information about a boat carrying 23 Cuban migrants that left nine days ago from Mariel.
Coast Guard officials said they did not know if the boat had left from Mariel.
The 13 Cubans who attempted to reach Miami Monday departed more than 10 days ago from Cojimar in Cuba.
Five of those Cubans were held aboard a Coast Guard cutter and likely will be returned to the island. The six others who reached land or were brought ashore likely will be allowed to stay.
Under the so-called wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban migrants interdicted at sea are generally returned to the island while those who reach U.S. soil get to stay.
Sánchez and relatives of some of the rafters who arrived Monday were on two boats in Biscayne Bay conducting their own search for the two missing Cubans. By telephone from his boat, Sánchez said they were searching in waters where the rafters’ boat broke apart Sunday near the Turkey Point nuclear plant in South Miami-Dade.
All of the 33 migrants plucked from the water off Boca on Wednesday never reached land. They were all being held on a Coast Guard vessel Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
A Coast Guard statement said the 33 migrants “jumped in the water from their grossly overloaded vessel 7 miles east of Boca Inlet.”
The migrants in the water were initially spotted by the crew of a Coast Guard C-130 searching for the two missing Cubans from Monday’s arrival.
The Coast Guard dispatched the cutters Shrike and Robert Yered as well as search and rescue boats from bases in Fort Lauderdale and Lake Worth Inlet.