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Coast Guard Working Overtime To Rescue Cuban Rafters This Week

U.S. Coast Guard

Dozens of Cuban migrants are lucky to be alive after a U.S. Coast Guard plane spotted their boat Wednesday morning as it took on water in the Atlantic off Boca Raton. But it was just the latest drama in a remarkably intense week – and year – for rescuing Cuban rafters.

The Coast Guard C-130 aircraft was already engaged in a search for two Cuban rafters reported missing earlier this week. But about seven miles off the coast of south Palm Beach County, here’s what it found instead:

“Thirty-three migrants in the water, clinging to a grossly overloaded vessel, taking on water and probably going to sink," says Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, the Coast Guard's Miami spokesman. “It’s amazing, I mean, this could have really ended in a real tragedy. We’re lucky that we didn’t have more loss of life. Thankfully all 33 were saved. We’re still missing two from Monday’s case.”

In that Monday episode, 11 of 13 Cubans were rescued when their flimsy boat broke apart near Biscayne Bay after more than 10 days at sea.

The events reflect a dramatic increase in Cubans leaving their communist island and heading for Florida on rafts and other unsafe vessels. The Coast Guard counted almost 4,000 Cuban rafters in the fiscal year that ended last month – almost double the number from the previous year.

Immigration experts fear a third or more of those Cuban rafters, known as balseros, die at sea.

The good news for the moment is that as winter approaches and sea temperatures drop, so does the balsero traffic.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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