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Migrant vessel from Cuba sinks before reaching land in the Florida Keys

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 1/13/2021 David Goodhue, Miami Herald
a wooden boat in a body of water: A boat that ferried seven Cubans to the Florida Keys floats in Boot Key Harbor in the city of Marathon Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. © U.S. Border Patrol/TNS/TNS A boat that ferried seven Cubans to the Florida Keys floats in Boot Key Harbor in the city of Marathon Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

MIAMI — A homemade boat with seven people from Cuba on board began to sink shortly before it reached land in the Florida Keys on Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

The vessel’s passengers survived unharmed, but unfortunately for them, their rescuers were U.S. Border Patrol agents, and they will likely be sent back to Cuba.

The boat arrived in the Middle Florida Keys city of Marathon about 9:30 a.m. EST, the agency said.

“The group was safely recovered,” Chief Patrol Agent Thomas G. Martin said in a statement released on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

Six men and a boy were on the boat, said Agent Adam Hoffner with the Border Patrol’s Miami Sector.

They left Matanzas, Cuba, two days ago, Hoffner said.

“Thankfully, the seven individuals were safely recovered and did not suffer any injuries during the event.,” Hoffner said in an email. “Their vessel took on water throughout the trip and eventually became submerged. We continue to warn migrants of the dangers associated with traveling by sea.”

According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the migrants arrived in Boot Key Harbor, a natural anchorage located on the ocean side of Marathon. The harbor is a popular spot for people who live on their boats.

The federal government tallies migrant stops and arrests by fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. The Coast Guard said Monday that 47 people have been caught so far this fiscal year trying to enter the U.S. by sea illegally through South Florida.

This number did not include Tuesday’s arrest.

The United States in early 2017 ended its decades-old policy of “wet-foot, dry-foot,” in which those from Cuba who made it to land were allowed to stay in the country and apply for permanent residency after a year. Those caught at sea were returned to Cuba.

Now all caught, whether en route or on land, are sent home.

Although the incentive to make the dangerous journey from the island nation over the Florida Straits is gone, people still take the chance, albeit not nearly as frequently as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” days.

On Monday, the Coast Guard caught 12 Cuban men sailing on a boat about eight miles east of Fort Lauderdale. They agency returned the men to Cabanas, Cuba, later that day, according to a Coast Guard press release.

And, some don’t survive.

In early November, a group of 17 men left Cardenas in the northwestern part of the country on a small fishing boat. They were never seen or heard from again, even after the U.S. Coast Guard undertook an extensive eight-day search.

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