MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and Miami-Dade police boats were on scene as officials intercepted a sailboat containing more than 150 migrants near Boca Chita Key Thursday morning.
At around 10:45 a.m., Sky 10 flew over the boat, which was filled to the brim with people. Several children were on board.
Boca Chita Key is south of Key Biscayne and is in Biscayne National Park.
At around 11:10 a.m., crews began tossing the migrants life jackets.
#BreakingNews @USCG @MiamiDadePD @MDFRChief @MyFWC @CBPAMO are on scene with a grounded sailing vessel off #BocaChita. Currently, people are on the vessel safe & not in the water. We are asking mariners to stay clear of the area for safety concerns. Stay tuned for updates. #SAR pic.twitter.com/l3llL0Z22X— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) July 21, 2022
Coast Guard officials confirmed just after 11:15 a.m. that at least 150 migrants were on board. They said a good Samaritan spotted the boat after it ran aground Thursday.
Miami-Dade fire rescue officials, as well as officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, were also on scene.
Coast Guard crews were giving the migrants life jackets and water and transferring them to cutters in small groups. Those needing medical treatment were being taken to Homestead Hospital.
The agency described the sailboat as “overloaded and unsafe” in a tweet Thursday afternoon.
Carl Ball was fishing when he saw the sailboat packed with people. By the time he encountered it, agencies had already arrived to the scene.
“As I went south, I saw a sailboat sideways and the sails were off to the side and an MDFR boat was next to it,” Ball said. “They were standing up there on the deck.”
Just before 4:30 p.m., all of the migrants had been removed from the sailboat.
While officials have not formally confirmed where they came from, they are believed to be from Haiti.
WATCH: “A country at war”
Local leaders reacted to the news Thursday.
Marleine Bastien, the executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, called the situation in Haiti a “political, economic and human crisis.”
“We can clearly see the peak (migration) at times of high levels of political instability and grave human rights abuses and that is what’s happening right now in Haiti,” Bastien said. “This is a country at war.”
Bastien said the situation in Haiti is so dire, many are willing to risk their lives to escape.
“You have gang members wreaking havoc, killing, beheading people, kidnapping women and girls, raping girls as young as a few months old,” she said. “The justice system is not working. There’s no fuel, no food.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime, a Haitian-American, released a statement following the interception Thursday:
“It is well known that the political, health, and safety situations in Haiti are dire,” Monestime said. “Many of those Haitian nationals arriving in the USA are certainly asylum seekers fleeing political turmoil. It is my hope that President Biden, his Administration and our legal system treat these migrants with humanity.”
Local and federal law enforcement officials have seen a marked increase in attempted migrations in the waters of Florida and the greater Caribbean.
“You got to think how desperate they are to hop in a boat like that with that many people on there,” Ball said. “Your heart really goes out to those people.”
In May, a boat carrying 842 Haitian migrants, headed for the United States, instead wound up in Cuba.
In April, U.S. Coast Guard crews rescued 88 Haitian migrants from a sinking vessel in the Straits of Florida.