The US Coast Guard said it plans to call off the search for more survivors after a boat carrying 39 people capsized on Sunday.
Four other bodies were found off Florida after a boat carrying 39 people capsized over the weekend, the United States Coast Guard announced, but said it would end search operations by sundown Thursday unless new information surfaced.
Authorities have now recovered a total of five bodies, leaving 34 people missing, Coast Guard Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian said at a press briefing in Miami.
The incident is believed to be linked to human trafficking, US authorities said.
“We had good visibility. We know we are looking in the right area. We flew over the ship several times and found other people dead. That means we don’t think it’s likely anyone else survived,” Burdian said.
“If we do not receive additional specific information to help redirect our search, we will suspend this active search.”
— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) January 26, 2022
Rescue teams recovered the body of one person on Wednesday, while a lone survivor was found clinging to the hull of the overturned boat on Tuesday.
Migrants seeking to get to Florida boarded flimsy ships crossing the Caribbean via the Bahamas.
Rescue teams have been searching for survivors since the boat capsized in rough seas on Sunday morning. The ship left the Bahamas’ Bimini Islands, about 80 km (50 miles) east of Miami, on Saturday evening.
It capsized about 72 km (45 miles) east of Fort Pierce Inlet, off the Atlantic coast of Florida, halfway between Miami and Cape Canaveral.
A lone survivor was spotted Tuesday morning by crew members of a private tugboat. The survivor told authorities after his rescue that he was one of 40 people on board the boat, none of whom were wearing life jackets, the coast guard said.
The turbulent waters of the Gulf Stream can be treacherous even on a calm, sunny day. Add an overloaded boat, inexperienced sailors, stormy weather and the darkness of night, and they can become deadly.
The Miami office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has launched an investigation, saying the migrants’ trip was most likely part of a human smuggling operation. Under federal law, a smuggler convicted of causing death can be executed.
“The purpose of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed enterprise,” said Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Miami.
He said he would not comment on the nationality of those on board the boat, as that was part of the investigation.
In another incident, the Coast Guard reported intercepting a sailboat off the Bahamas overloaded with 191 Haitians that would be heading to Florida on Wednesday.