9 migrants rescued, several remain missing as boat sinks off Keys amid Hurricane Ian

Migrants speak exclusively with Local 10 News about harrowing journey

The search continues for about 20 missing migrants whose boat capsized in the Straits of Florida Wednesday.

MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly two dozen Cuban migrants were missing in the waters off the Florida Keys Wednesday morning after their vessel sank in the Straits of Florida, a U.S. Border Patrol official says.

Four migrants were able to swim to shore.

The group had been out at sea for five days. They spoke exclusively with Local 10 News Wednesday night, describing a harrowing journey.

Their journey came as Hurricane Ian zeroed in on Florida, with high winds and rain pummeling the Keys the day prior.

“We were close to the coast of Cuba for two days and two nights and they didn’t rescue us,” one migrant said. “13 miles away, we lit things up and nothing. Two days, close to Cuba’s coast and no one rescued us.”

That migrant described extreme weather conditions.

“Waves 15 meters high, waves, waves ,waves, waves,” he said. “There was so much rain and on the third day we were left without water.”

Migrant speaks (Spanish):

Migrante que arriesgó su vida para salir de Cuba durante el huracán Ian dice que el viaje era peligroso pero que valía la pena para poder tener libertad

After being detained, four of the migrants were released to their families Wednesday afternoon. Four others remain in U.S. Border Patrol custody.

“From Friday at one in the morning until Tuesday, we spent six days out at sea,” one of the migrants said in Spanish to Local 10 News, adding that they made the incredibly dangerous journey, “for the right to be free.”

“It’s dangerous, but being free is worth more than the risk we are taking,” he said.

Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar, who leads the Border Patrol’s Miami sector, tweeted that the four migrants who made it to shore landed on Stock Island, immediately east of Key West.

Slosar, attributed the sinking to “inclement weather.”

Just before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard tweeted that its crews rescued three migrants from the water about two miles south of Boca Chica Key.

Those three migrants were taken to a local hospital for symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration, officials said, adding to the four migrants evaluated at the hospital after swimming ashore.

Air crews continued to search for the remaining missing migrants Thursday.

Slosar tweeted Thursday afternoon that officials had “safely located and rescued” nine migrants. It’s unclear if those were in addition to the migrants rescued Wednesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard shared a video showing search and rescue efforts Thursday morning.

Officials have warned migrants against taking to the seas in general, but especially during hurricane conditions, which make an already treacherous journey even more perilous.

On Tuesday, as weather conditions deteriorated, a group of seven Cuban migrants made it to shore on Pompano Beach.

About the Authors:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.