FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Officials continued Wednesday to search for survivors in waters off the coast of Florida after a boat believed to be carrying 40 people capsized Sunday near Fort Pierce, claiming at least one life.
The U.S. Coast Guard learned of the incident Tuesday morning, after a commercial mariner described as a “good Samaritan” found the 25-foot vessel capsized about 40 miles east of Fort Pierce. Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Miami sector, said the fisherman rescued a person after finding him clinging to the wreckage. The person was taken to a hospital, where they were treated for symptoms of dehydration and sun exposure. Officials said the person was in stable condition Wednesday.
The person, who was not identified, told authorities that they left Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday evening with 39 other people on board the ship, which later capsized due to inclement weather. Burdian said that as of Wednesday morning, officials had searched an area about the size of New Jersey looking for survivors, though no others were immediately found.
“The survivor was not wearing a life jacket and reported that no one else on board was wearing a life jacket,” Burdian said. “Without life jackets, anyone is disadvantaged to survive in the water.”
Authorities believe the ship might have been involved in human smuggling. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security are investigating.
“This event occurred in a normal route for human smuggling from the Bahamas into the Southeast U.S.,” Burdian said, though she emphasized that officials are currently focused on searching for survivors and not on investigating the origins of the boat. “The vessel we were not able to recover to, you know, to right the boat and really conduct any investigation. Honestly, we marked it as a hazard to navigation and really focused on the lifesaving and search and rescue efforts focused on the people.”
Burdian said officials did not immediately know the nationalities of those who remained missing Wednesday. Authorities plan to continue search efforts throughout Wednesday.
“My deepest condolences go out to the families of anyone who might be missing in this case,” Burdian said.
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