The death toll stands at five from a capsized boat off the coast of Florida, the US Coast Guard said Thursday.
“We have found four deceased bodies in the last 24-hours, bringing the total to five deceased bodies we’ve discovered inside our search area,” Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, commander of Coast Guard Sector Miami, said at a news conference.
Search and rescue teams canvassed an area the size of the state of Massachusetts by air and sea in the last 24-hours.
It has been five days since the boat, carrying 40 people, capsized on its way from Bimini, Bahamas to Fort Pierce, Florida.
By the end of Thursday, the active search for the other 35 missing people will stop.
“I have made the very difficult decision, balancing everything we know about unseen weather conditions, the number of people who went in the water, how confident we are in our search area, and the effort we’ve put forth, that if we do not receive additional information today that can refine our search or direct us toward additional survivors, that at sunset this evening, we will suspend actively searching,” said Burdian.
“It does mean that we don’t think it’s likely that anyone else has survived,” she added.
The focus now shifts from search and rescue efforts to a criminal investigation in the tragedy, which US Homeland Security believes is part of a human smuggling operation.
“The goal of this investigation is to identify, arrest, and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated, or profited from this doomed venture,” said Tony Salisbury, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Miami.
Salisbury said Homeland Security is working with local, state, federal and foreign partners in the widespread investigation.
He emphasized the importance of bringing criminals to justice who prey and victimize vulnerable migrant communities.
“We don’t want anybody doing this again to any more migrants. This is dangerous stuff,” he said./aa