The US Coast Guard says 39 people are missing after a boat capsized off Florida.

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf returned to their homeport in Alameda, Calif., following a nearly 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018. The crew deployed to the Hawaiian Islands and southern California where crewmembers participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018, the world’s largest multi-national naval exercise. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi.

Unit­ed States Coast Guard res­cuers search the waters off the Atlantic coast of Flori­da for 39 peo­ple who have been miss­ing for sev­er­al days after a boat sus­pect­ed of being used for human traf­fick­ing capsized.

A good Samar­i­tan alert­ed the coast­guard ear­ly on Tues­day after res­cu­ing a man cling­ing to the large­ly sub­merged hull of the boat after it hit rough weath­er about 72km (45 miles) east of town of Fort Pierce, the Mar­itime Safe­ty Agency report­ed on Twitter.

The sur­vivor told author­i­ties he left the Bahamas’ Bimi­ni Islands with 39 oth­er peo­ple on Sat­ur­day evening and they were not wear­ing life jack­ets, the Coast Guard added.

Cut­ter ships and air­craft were deployed to search an area stretch­ing from Bimi­ni to Fort Pierce to find the missing.

The Coast Guard said it was treat­ing the inci­dent as a sus­pect­ed case of human trafficking.

The nation­al­i­ty of the peo­ple on board is not yet known.

Migrants have long used the islands of the Bahamas as a step­ping stone to reach Flori­da and the Unit­ed States, with the Bimi­ni Islands being just 80 km east of Miami.

Smug­glers usu­al­ly try to take advan­tage of breaks in the weath­er to make the cross­ing, but ships are often dan­ger­ous­ly over­loaded and sus­cep­ti­ble to cap­siz­ing. There have been thou­sands of deaths over the years.

The lat­est acci­dent fol­lows anoth­er unfor­tu­nate cross­ing last week when author­i­ties res­cued 32 peo­ple whose boat cap­sized west of Bimi­ni, Coast Guard spokesman Pet­ty Offi­cer Jose Her­nan­dez told AFP. Reuters news agency.

Most of those attempt­ing the cross­ing come from Haiti and Cuba.

At least 557 Cuban migrants in total have been picked up at sea by the Coast Guard since Octo­ber, accord­ing to the agency.

Cross­ings by Haitians have also become more fre­quent as the Caribbean island nation faces eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal crises, as well as gang-relat­ed kidnappings.

The Coast Guard said it inter­cept­ed at least 159 Hait­ian nation­als dur­ing this exercise.

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