Coast Guard searches for 38 people missing in a suspected human smuggling operation
After recovering one body, rescue crews are continuing to search for 38 people who were aboard a boat that capsized after departing from the Bahamas on Saturday, the Coast Guard says.
Crews hope to locate more people after debris fields were spotted from an aircraft, U.S. Coast Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, the Sector Miami commander, told reporters Wednesday.
In a tweet announcing the rescue operation, the Coast Guard called the incident a "suspected human smuggling venture." The Department of Homeland Security is leading a criminal investigation, the Associated Press reports.
"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," Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations' Miami office, told the AP.
A good Samaritan rescued one of the passengers
Officials said they learned about the incident on Tuesday morning after a good Samaritan rescued a man clinging to a capsized 25-foot vessel about 45 miles east of Florida's Fort Pierce Inlet.
The good Samaritan — a commercial mariner heading toward Jacksonville — took the survivor aboard until a Coast Guard vessel arrived to bring the passenger ashore for medical care, Burdian said.
The survivor was transported to a local hospital for symptoms of sun exposure and dehydration, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.
The survivor was aboard a boat with 40 passengers that departed from Bimini, a small island in the Bahamas roughly 55 miles east of Miami. According to the Coast Guard, passengers reportedly encountered severe weather shortly after leaving Bimini, which caused their vessel to capsize. The Coast Guard said the survivor told them no one on board was wearing a life jacket.
The operation is at least the second major search effort for the Coast Guard in the past week. On Friday, a joint search team rescued 32 people from a capsized vessel about five miles west of Bimini. The Coast Guard said the incident was a "suspected migrant venture."