Dozens of illegal immigrants were sent back to Cuba after being stopped in four vessels off the Florida Keys, US Coast Guard officials said.
Boats carrying a total of 45 Cubans were spotted by civilians beginning late Wednesday about 12 miles south of Boot Key, according to the US Coast Guard 7th District on Sunday.
Three other “rustic” vessels carrying more migrants headed to the US were then intercepted by Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton’s crew on Friday, including one about 17 miles south of Long Key.
Photos released by the Coast Guard Sunday showed the migrants tightly huddled on small wooden boats, including one that appeared to be extremely tattered.
“The possibility of being stopped by Coast Guard crews while illegally migrating through the Caribbean Sea is high,” Lt. Cmdr. Mark Cobb of the Coast Guard’s Seventh District said in a statement. “No one should risk their lives on unsafe rustic vessels in unpredictable seas.”
The four interdictions off the Florida Keys came just days after the Coast Guard returned 52 people to Cuba on Tuesday upon being stopped south of Key West and other areas while in four boats and one inflatable vessel, the Miami Herald reported.
Coast Guard crews have interdicted 2,464 Cubans since October, marking the largest exodus of migrants since 2016 – when nearly 5,400 Cubans were stopped while trying to enter the US illegally, data shows.