Miami, Jan 27 (EFE).- The US Coast Guard reported Thursday the finding of four bodies in Atlantic Ocean waters off the Florida coast during the search and rescue operation under way after a boat with more than three dozen illegal migrants on board capsized on the weekend.
Now, five bodies have been found, all of them confirmed to have come from the vessel by a survivor of the shipwreck, which occurred some 40 miles off Florida’s east coast on Sunday.
At a press conference on Thursday, Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, the commander of the Coast Guard’s Miami sector, after expressing her condolences to the relatives of the victims, reported that four bodies were found in the past 24 hours, although she provided no further details.
She added that very probably the search for survivors and bodies will be terminated Thursday afternoon, unless additional “specific information” is obtained that could prompt authorities to narrow down the search area.
Burdian added that authorities do not believe that more survivors will be found.
Coast Guard air and sea units in the past 48 hours have scoured a swath of ocean comparable in size to the state of New Jersey – that is, some 22,500 sq. kilometers (8,650 sq. miles).
According to information released on Thursday, participating in the search and rescue operation launched on Tuesday have been three Coast Guard cutters, two other Coast Guard boats, two US Navy vessels and six aircraft The only survivor of the shipwreck, a 22-year-old man who clung to the capsized hull of the boat, said that the vessel overturned shortly after he and 39 other people set sail on Saturday night from the island of Bimini, in The Bahamas en route for the Florida coast.
The young man is in “stable” condition in a Florida hospital and is in the custody of US immigration authorities.
The boat – 7.6 meters (25 feet) in length – capsized due to bad weather and heavy seas, according to the Coast Guard.
Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury, of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Miami, said at the press conference that the case is being handled as a criminal investigation focusing on possible smuggling of undocumented migrants.
The investigation is in its initial phase but the case could include charges of human trafficking resulting in death, according to federal authorities, who did not provide the nationalities of the occupants of the boat or other relevant details about the matter.
In remarks to Miami’s Telemundo 51, the mother of the lone survivor, an Hispanic woman who identified herself as Marcia, revealed that she was able to speak with her son by telephone and that he told her that, in addition to adults, there were children and babies on board the boat.
The woman told the media that among those missing in the shipwreck is her 18-year-old daughter, whom she said she believes is dead, according to what her son told her.
“He told me: ‘Mama, my sister died, my sister drowned. I searched for her and I couldn’t find her. I called and called for her and my sister didn’t make it.’ That was the only thing he told me,” the visibly emotional woman said.
“He grabbed onto what remained of the boat, just like you can see in the photo,” the woman said regarding the circumstances in which her son managed to save himself and referring to a photo taken just before his rescue showing him perched on top of the hull of the capsized vessel.
She called her son’s survival a “miracle” and asked US immigration authorities for their “understanding” and for them to release him.