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.