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Hundreds Of Haitians Run Aground Off Key Largo In Suspected Human Smuggling Operation

KEY LARGO (CBSMiami) – A large wooden boat with over 350 Haitian migrants ran aground in shallow water off Key Largo on Sunday.

According to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, deputies were notified at around 1:20 p.m. to assist Border Patrol and FWC after the boat was spotted listing sharply to its side near Ocean Reef Club.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said some of the migrants aboard the ship then jumped overboard into the choppy water to try to swim to shore.

"158 Haitian migrants attempted to swim to shore and were quickly rescued by many of our law enforcement partners," said Adam Hoffner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection division chief for Miami operations.

An additional 198 migrants remained onboard the vessel and were safely removed from the vessel and taken into custody by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In total, federal authorities said there were 356 people on board, including women and children.

"It's very painful and sad. People are so desperate they will risk their lives," said Leonie Hermantin, director of development and communications for the Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami.

Hermantin said Haitians are fleeing because of deteriorating and dangerous conditions on the island nation. She said it's spurred by the assassination of the president, the earthquake, gang violence and economic instability.

"20,000 people are displaced, including 10,000 children," she said.

The 158 migrants in Border Patrol custody will be interviewed and processed for removal proceedings. The remaining 198 migrants remain on a Coast Guard cutter and are pending repatriation to Haiti.

Border Patrol officials said this is a suspected human smuggling operation. Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities.

Hermantin said they are calling on the Biden administration to grant temporary protective status to migrants who are fearful to return.

"Women are sent back to places of torture," she said.

In the past week, the Coast Guard has stopped two other Haitian boats navigating near the Bahamas with dozens of migrants.

Sunday's grounding took place not far from where another boat carrying 176 Haitians was stopped in January.

On Feb. 28, crews spotted a Haitian sailboat with 179 people aboard 30 miles off Andros Island, Bahamas.  On March 4, the Coast Guard stopped another Haitian sail vessel with 123 people, including 39 minors about 10 miles from Anguilla Cay, Bahamas.


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