KEY WEST, Fla. — Two people were killed and as many as 10 others were missing on Thursday when a boat carrying Cuban migrants overturned off Key West, Fla., according to the authorities, who said that eight of the vessel’s passengers had been rescued from the water.
A Coast Guard cutter had been patrolling in the area, about 18 miles southwest of Key West, when it encountered the boat’s passengers in the water around 1 p.m., Petty Officer Jose Hernandez, a Coast Guard spokesman, said in an interview on Thursday night.
It was not immediately clear what type of boat was involved.
“There was no vessel. The people were found in the water,” Petty Officer Hernandez said. “That’s why we don’t have any of the nationalities or anything like that.”
Sheriff Rick Ramsay of Monroe County said in a text message on Thursday night that 20 Cubans were originally on board the boat that sank. He said that information was still limited and that detectives responded to assist with the investigation.
The Coast Guard said that a search for survivors was continuing Thursday evening and that it was still gathering details, including what had caused the vessel to overturn.
“We’re searching for 10 possible people still in the water,” Petty Officer Hernandez said.
Two cutters and several smaller boats from the Coast Guard’s Key West Station were part of the search effort, as well as a Navy aircraft, officials said.
At just 90 miles from Cuba, the Florida Keys has been a frequent passageway for Cubans trying to make it to the United States. But Coast Guard officials have warned about the perils of making the journey.
In a separate episode on Saturday, someone called the authorities to alert them to nearly a dozen people aboard a raft off Marathon, about an hour north of Key West. When the Coast Guard reached the vessel, they found one of the Cubans aboard was already dead. His son told officials that the raft had flipped over at the start of the trip, and they lost their food, water and medication.
“The dangers of traveling through the Florida Straits cannot be overstated,” Chief Warrant Officer Matt James, commanding officer, Station Islamorada, said in a statement earlier this week. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the man who died as a result of losing critical medicine for a reported pre-existing condition during the capsizing.”
The U.S. Coast Guard has captured nearly 300 Cubans at sea since the start of the fiscal year in October, the agency said. Last fiscal year, just 49 Cubans were caught trying to migrate to the United States.
The number of Cubans surged during the Obama administration. In the last year of Mr. Obama’s presidency, 5,396 Cubans were interdicted.
On Monday, 21 Cubans interdicted were sent back to Cuba by the Coast Guard. Earlier Thursday, eight Cubans were repatriated after being spotted aboard a rustic green raft.
“Migrant interdiction patrols help save lives by deterring dangerous illegal migrant activity and removing migrants from dangerous environments,” Capt. Michael Gesele, Coast Guard District Seven chief of enforcement, said in a statement Thursday referring to the earlier episode.