US Coast Guard continues search for 10 Cubans missing at sea


MIAMI — A search for 10 Cubans missing from a boat capsize continued Friday, a day after the U.S. Coast Guard rescued eight other passengers and pulled two bodies from the water.

The group was first spotted on routine patrol 18 miles southwest of Key West, Florida Thursday and crews searched overnight, continuing and expanding the area Friday, officials said. The vessel sank after it capsized, so it was not clear what type of craft they traveled across the Florida Straits.

Lt. Cmdr. Jason Neiman, a Coast Guard spokesman, said they left the port of Mariel on Sunday and lost the helm of the boat Wednesday. Later that day, their boat overturned. The survivors were transferred to a Coast Guard vessel to receive food, water and medical attention.

“They have all been screened for medical and they are being taken care of at the Coast Guard cutter,” Lt. Cmdr. Neiman said.

Other agencies such as the U.S. Navy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are helping in the search, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard crews have interdicted more than 300 Cubans at sea since October, finding 200 of them only in the past two months, and they are typically repatriated to Cuba. Only 49 Cubans were interdicted by the agency between October 2019 and September 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic also halted travel and prompted lockdowns.

The figure this year is on pace to surpass interdictions between October 2018 and September 2019 and already higher than those seen the year prior to that. But the levels are still much lower than the thousands seen before President Barack Obama in January 2017 halted the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that granted residency to any Cuban who set foot on dry land.

The uptick comes as the pandemic, financial reforms and Trump administration restrictions have battered the Cuban economy. It shrank 11% last year as a result of a collapse in tourism and remittances.

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