The U.S. Coast Guard was searching on Tuesday for 39 people missing for several days after a boat believed to be piloted by human smugglers capsized off Florida’s coast en route from the Bahamas.
A good Samaritan called the Coast Guard early Tuesday after rescuing a man clinging to the boat 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Fort Pierce, the maritime security agency reported on Twitter.
The man said he was with a group that left the island of Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday night. He said the boat capsized in severe weather and that no one was wearing life jackets.
The Coast Guard is calling it a case of human smuggling. Officials said on Twitter that they are searching by both air and sea over a roughly 135-mile (218-kilometer) area extending from Bimini to the Fort Pierce Inlet.
The agency patrols the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas, along routes often used by migrants trying to reach the U.S. The agency stops and repatriates foreigners found navigating in U.S. waters.
On Friday, the Coast Guard found 88 Haitians in an overloaded sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas.
“Navigating the Florida straits, Windward and Mona Passages ... is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said in a statement last weekend.