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Coast Guard Ends Search After Finding Bodies of 5 Migrants From Capsized Boat

The Coast Guard said on Thursday that it had recovered the bodies of five migrants from a suspected human smuggling boat that capsized last weekend off the coast of Florida, but that it would suspend its search for the more than 30 passengers who were still missing.

At a news conference in Miami Beach, Fla., officials said that four of the five bodies had been found in the past day as crews searched the northern Florida Straits and that only one survivor had been located earlier in the week.

Absent the emergence of additional information that could help Coast Guard crews narrow the search field, those in charge of the effort said that they had no choice but to make the difficult decision to call off the search.

Capt. Jo-Ann F. Burdian, the commander of the Coast Guard’s Miami sector, said that the search would end at sunset on Thursday.

“It does mean that we don’t think it’s likely that anyone else has survived,” Captain Burdian said.

She emphasized: “Now that does not mean the Coast Guard is closing this case. What that means is we won’t be dedicating assets specifically to this search.”

The 25-foot boat had left Bimini, in the Bahamas, on Saturday night, but encountered severe weather as it approached the Florida coast, overturning about 45 miles east of the Fort Pierce Inlet, according to the Coast Guard.

About two days passed before rescuers learned of the maritime disaster, which underscored the dangers associated with the prevalence of seaborne migration — and the desperation of those reliant on often overcrowded and flimsy boats. No one on the boat was wearing a life jacket, the authorities said.

Anthony Salisbury, a special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Miami, said at the news conference that a criminal investigation was continuing into the human smuggling operation connected to the boat.

“The goal of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed venture,” Agent Salisbury said.

Agent Salisbury urged anyone with information about the human smuggling operation or anyone who might have had a family member aboard the boat to contact federal investigators.

“So please help us bring criminals who prey on and victimize the vulnerable migrant community to justice,” he said. “We don’t want anybody doing this again to any more migrants. This is dangerous stuff.”

Rescuers learned of the capsized vessel on Tuesday morning, when a boater, who was described as a good Samaritan, found a man clinging to the boat’s hull, the Coast Guard said.

A photo posted by the Coast Guard on Twitter showed the man straddling the hull.

Captain Burdian said that three ships and eight aircraft had been used during the search.

“We have saturated the area over, and over and over again,” Captain Burdian said. “The weather is somewhat deteriorating.”

The search effort came after at least 31 people were rescued from the water last Friday when their boat capsized five miles west of Bimini, according to the Coast Guard and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.

Circassia News

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