At least three people died and two were missing after a boat capsized Thursday off southeast Florida in what is being investigated as the latest case of immigrant deaths during an escape from a Caribbean country, the Coast Guard announced.
Just a day earlier, four women died and at least 11 were rescued in another incident that is also thought to involve immigrants seeking to enter the United States.
“We’re not sure, but we suspect the latest incident involves immigrants,” Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss told the Los Angeles Times. Rescuing capsized vessels containing immigrants is a frequent activity in the waters off Florida.
The Coast Guard on Thursday sent an aircraft to the area, about 75 miles northeast of Palm Beach, and a ship was also en route, Doss said. According to early reports, seven people were rescued, but there were three confirmed deaths. Two people were reported missing, Doss said.
Human smuggling of all types appears to be a growth industry, according to international agencies, and human trafficking has become a backbone of some organized crime endeavors. In the United States, the waters off Florida are well known for overloaded or poorly maintained vessels that bring people, seeking to escape economic or political hardship, from the Caribbean to the United States.
But transportation disasters involving immigrants are hardly limited to Florida. Last fall, some 330 people died in separate incidents off the coast of Italy when two boats capsized. The dead are believed to have been Africans heading for Europe, according to officials.
In the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Coast Guard picked up 508 Haitians and 1,357 Cubans at sea off Florida. Since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, the Coast Guard has reported picking up 93 Haitians and 117 Cubans.
Cubans who reach the United States are generally allowed to stay, while those stopped at sea are usually returned. Other national groups are usually repatriated.
On Wednesday, the Coast Guard reported that 11 people were rescued when a boat capsized off South Florida. Ten people were clinging to the hull of the boat and one was in a pocket of air underneath.
The bodies of four women were also trapped in the air pocket.
The survivor found under the boat was suffering seizures and was taken by boat to a Miami Beach hospital, officials said. He was treated and released to federal law enforcement.
The rest of the survivors were in good condition and were taken into custody aboard a Coast Guard vessel.