The situation is considered “dire” as the Coast Guard frantically searches for 38 individuals off the coast of Florida using planes and ships on Wednesday. Captain Jo-Ann F. Burdian said one survivor told rescuers their boat had capsized Saturday evening after departing from the Bahamas into a storm towards the U.S.
There is a single known survivor, and the accident killed at least one person, reports the Associated Press. U.S. authorities have launched a criminal investigation into what is suspected to have been a human smuggling boat.
The Coast Guard was alerted Tuesday morning after crew on a merchant vessel spotted the surviving man sitting alone on the overturned hull of the 25-foot boat. He is “conscious and lucid” after being treated at a hospital with symptoms of dehydration and sun exposure before being turned over to Homeland Security officials.
Homeland Security Investigations opened a criminal probe, which includes efforts with U.S. agents in the Bahamas. Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge of the agency’s Miami office said “you’re dealing with criminal organizations that have no value for human life or safety. It’s really victimizing the migrants. It’s just about the money.”
The AP writes “migrants from around the world have long sued the Bahamas as a stepping stone to reach Florida and the United States. They typically try to take advantage of breaks in the weather to make the crossing, but the vessels are often dangerously overloaded and prove to capsizing. There have been thousands of deaths over the years.”
This particular boat departed from Bimini, a small cluster of islands about 55 miles east of Miami and about 100 miles south of where the surviving man was found. Mostly, the migrants come from Haiti and Cuba, “but the Royal Bahamas Defense Force has reported apprehending migrants from other parts of the world, including from Colombia and Ecuador earlier this month” reports the AP.