MIAMI – The sole survivor of a capsized boat found off Florida’s coast was a young Colombian man traveling with his younger sister, Colombia’s government said Friday. Authorities in Florida have found five bodies and believe 34 others also died in the migrant voyage.
Colombia’s foreign ministry said in an email that it heard earlier this week from the Colombian siblings’ mother, who confirmed that her son, Juan Esteban Montoya Caicedo had been found and hospitalized and that her daughter, Maria Camila Montoya Caicedo, had died. Their ages were not provided.
U.S. officials have so far declined to release details about the boat’s passengers, including their nationalities, other than to say the incident is being investigated as a suspected human smuggling operation gone awry.
The U.S. Coast Guard began its search and rescue mission early Tuesday when a merchant vessel spotted a man alone on the overturned hull of a 25-foot boat. He told authorities he was with a group of 40 people when the boat capsized Saturday evening shortly after setting out for Florida from Bimini in the Bahamas, adding no one aboard was wearing a life jacket.
The Coast Guard suspended the search at sunset on Thursday after finding five bodies that appeared to have been in the water since late Saturday. Capt. Jo-Ann F. Burdian said crews had good visibility and searched the waters in an area as wide as the state of Massachusetts.
The Gulf Stream can be deadly even on calm days for overloaded boats and inexperienced mariners. A small craft advisory had been issued on Saturday and Sunday as a severe cold front with winds up to 23 mph blew through the dangerous passage, creating swells up to 9 feet.
Homeland Security Investigations officials have said they are speaking to the survivor, who is in a Florida hospital.
HSI Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury said on Thursday that the lone survivor is so far being treated as a victim, not a suspect.