Migrant Smugglers Thwarted by Coast Guard, DHS Partners
U.S. Coast Guard  |  October 04, 2005

MIAMI - The Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, alongside their partners in the Dept. of Homeland Security, have interdicted and repatriated approximately 1,335 Cuban migrants this summer in efforts to protect the lives of those attempting illegal entry into the United States, while also cracking down on the migrant smugglers who put those lives in peril.

Since June, 17 migrant smuggling incidents have occurred. Ten of which took place this past week and three of which were fatal.

Prominent cases from this summer:

Sept. 30:  A Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter spotted a go-fast 17 miles south of Key West at 7:28 p.m. and vectored the cutter Attu. 

The crew of the Attu safely stopped the smuggling vessel and embarked 24 migrants and two suspected smugglers.  The vessel and one smuggler were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Key West.

The remaining smuggler was transferred to CBP officials in Key West.

Sept. 17: What was suspected to be a migrant smuggling venture sadly became deadly as a go-fast vessel caught fire more than 40 miles southeast of Key West, Fla.

While boarding a go-fast which was later terminated for carrying fuel barrels on board, the crew of the cutter Metompkin observed another nearby go-fast vessel catch fire. A CBP aircraft observed the vessel while a seperate crew from the Metompkin launched a small boat to assist the distressed boat. On board the go-fast were several extra fuel barrels.

Both suspected smugglers of the go-fast abandoned ship. Crewmembers aboard the Metompkin were able to rescue one of the two men, and witnessed the deceased sink. They were unable to recover him.

Also that same day, 34 migrants were located on a go-fast vessel 27 miles south of Key West, Fla., by an Air Station Clearwater C-130 aircraft. Coast Guard Sector Key West was notified and immediately diverted the St. Petersburg, Fla., Cutter Pea Island to the scene.

Thirty-two of the migrants embarked the Pea Island and were repatriated, while two suspected smugglers remain in custody of Customs and Border Protection officials for further prosecution.

Aug. 24: In another tragic case, a search was suspended for 31 missing people who were reportedly thrown into the water when their 28-foot boat capsized during an apparent migrant smuggling attempt north of Matanzas, Cuba, Aug. 16.

Coast Guard aircraft and vessels combed more than 7,728 square miles after recieveing word of the tragedy following the rescue of the three survivors by the merchant vessel, Melfi Habana.

Those survivors, two women and a man, were reported to have suffered second degree burns and severe dehydration due to exposure during their five days at sea.

June 26:  A group of migrants was rescued from a go-fast after being spotted by a Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., C-130 airplane at 12:07 a.m., 10 miles south of Sand Key, Fla. The planeís crew vectored the cutters Matagorda and Attu to the go-fastís location.

The vesselís operator stopped and the crew of the Matagorda embarked 38 migrants and two suspected smugglers who were later transferred to Customs and Border Protection officials. The crew of the Attu towed the boat to Coast Guard Station Marathon, Fla.

The C Ė130 crew spotted a second go-fast 50 miles south of Marathon at 2:27 a.m. and vectored the cutter Decisive and a crew from Station Key West, Fla., to the scene. The vessel was stopped at which time 28 migrants and two suspected smugglers were transferred to the Decisive. The two suspected smugglers were later transferred to CBP officials.

The final group interdicted Monday morning was rescued by Station Key West when the crew found 10 migrants in a homemade vessel one mile south of Loggerhead Key, Fla., at 5:27.

June 25: A Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Miami, spotted a northbound Go-Fast off the coast of Key West, Fla.

Immediately, Coast Guard Sector Key West launched small boats from both Station Key West and Station Marathon, Fla., for interception.

Once arrived on scene, the Coast Guard crews made several attempts to stop the vessel, including hailing them on marine radio via VHF-FM frequencies. Jose Gonzalez-Coca, the operator of the vessel, ignored the Coast Guard and attempted to evade the response boats, using his vessel to shoulder the Coast Guard boat.

Further attempts were made to stop the vessel, including the use of warning shots and disabling fire, which were not effective as the chase continued.

Gonzalez-Coca beached the go-fast vessel at Cook Island, Fla., where seven Cuban migrants emerged from the lower cabin of the vessel and fled the scene, later apprehended by Customs and Border Protection officials.

Gonzalez-Coca was apprehended by Station Key West's small boat crew and was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for six broken ribs obtained from beaching the vessel at a high rate of speed.

A court date has been set for Jan. 5, 2006, for the sentencing of Gonzalez-Coca, who recently pled guilty to migrant smuggling and felony aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer.

June 22: Thirty-one migrants were rescued following a go-fast chase. An HU-25 Falcon jet crew from Air Station Miami spotted the 23-foot go-fast 60 miles south of Key West, Fla., traveling at high speeds in choppy waters with 33 people on board. An HH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew deployed to Sector Key West was launched to assist.

Small boat crews from Stations Marathon and Key West were launched to intercept the overloaded vessel. Following a dangerous, high-speed pursuit, the go-fast came to a stop seven miles south of Key West where a Coast Guard boarding team noticed a semi-conscious migrant.

One of the two Coast Guard boat crews brought the injured man aboard the rescue boat and took him to Key West where he was transferred to waiting local emergency medical service personnel at the Coast Guard base.

The injured man was pronounced dead on arrival at Lower Keys Memorial Hospital. Two suspected smugglers have been taken into custody. The remaining 30 migrants were repatriated June 28.

"We need people to understand that migrant smuggling operations are every bit as dangerous as taking to the water in overloaded or unseawothry vessels," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, public affairs officer for the Seventh Coast Guard District. "Trying to illegally enter the United States from the maritime domain is inherently dangerous and threatens the lives of all involved."



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