U.S. Coast Guard Reports Increase in Haitian Migrant Boat Intercepts

Overloaded sail freighter intercepted off Cap Du Mole, Haiti (USCG)

Published Oct 3, 2021 10:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The number of maritime migrants attempting to cross from Haiti to Florida has more than tripled compared to last year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Since October 1, 2020, the USCG has rescued over 1,500 Haitians from small craft, compared with just 418 in all of FY2020. 

The count includes two very similar boat interdictions conducted last week, both involving 50-foot sail freighters with about 200 passengers each. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the crew of the cutter Bernard C. Webber crew spotted a 50-foot sail freighter at a position about 20 miles northwest of Cap Du Mole, Haiti. The cutter Diligence diverted to the sailing vessel's location and took all 202 migrants aboard. After safely embarking the occupants, the crew destroyed the boat as a hazard to navigation. 

The second intercept began Thursday when an Ocean Sentry search aircraft out of Air Station Miami spotted an overloaded 50-foot sail freighter southeast of Pointe de la Plateforme, Haiti. The cutter Bernard C. Webber was diverted to the scene, and on seeing the state of the craft, her crew handed out lifejackets to all 199 people on board. Given the vessel's dangerously-full state, the Webber's crew brought the passengers aboard for transport back to shore, with assistance from the cutters Hamilton, Robert Yered and Diligence. 

No injuries or significant medical concerns were reported, and the four cutters delivered all of the occupants safely to Haitian authories at Cap-Haitien. The sail freighter was destroyed as a hazard to navigation. 

“Migrants attempting to enter the United States by sea are often on grossly overloaded, unseaworthy vessels, and without safety equipment," said Lt. David Steele, Coast Guard Liaison Officer, U.S. Embassy Haiti. "Sadly, many people have lost their lives in these attempts."

In recent months, desperate circumstances have prompted thousands of Haitians to flee their home country and attempt to reach the United States. Haiti suffers from multiple overlapping problems, including decades of poverty; rising gang violence; political upheaval caused by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July; and damage from a severe earthquake in August, which destroyed over 50,000 homes.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of Haitian migrants have attempted to cross the United States' southern border with Mexico, creating a new policy challenge for the Biden administration. About 4,000 were swiftly deported back to Haiti, along with 8,000 more who were sent back to Mexico, but thousands more have been released into the United States to await asylum hearings.