Four women were killed and 11 people were rescued from waters off Miami Beach after the boat they were in capsized and started to sink early Wednesday, officials said.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, they received reports around 1 a.m. from Miami-Dade Police that the vessel had capsized about seven nautical miles east of Government Cut.
When rescuers arrived nine people were clinging to the sinking vessel, officials said. Five of the people are Jamaican and four are Haitian, the Coast Guard said.
One of the people who was clinging to the boat was able to call 911, the Coast Guard said.
The bodies of four women, as well as two more survivors, were later found, officials said. Their nationalities were unknown.
"We effectively rerighted the vessel and then unfortunately tragically found four bodies, adult females underneath, and then an adult male which somehow had been able to find some sort of air pocket and we were able to rescue that male," Coast Guard Commander Darren Caprara said.
One person was transported to Mt. Sinai Medical Center where their injuries were unknown. The person was later released.
Coast Guard officials had been searching for more survivors but later called off the search. Two boats and one helicopter were searching the water early Wednesday.
The boat, which is about 25 feet long, has two engines and had the center console ripped out, the Coast Guard said. It was towed back to the Coast Guard's Miami Beach station early Wednesday.
"[The vessel] looked like a regular recreation boat," Coast Guard spokesman Derek Wallin said.
There were no lifevests or navigation equipment on board, officials said.
"Fifteen people on a 25 foot boat is alot, if properly maintained I'm not gonna say it was overloaded, but certainly with the lack of life jackets it was a very, very dangerous voyage," Caprara said.
It was unclear if the boaters were seeking refuge in the U.S., the Coast Guard said.
"This case does fit the profile of a typical smuggling event," Caprara said. "It occurred in the wee hours of the night, it was a group of people who claim to be from foreign countries, detected inside our waters, and then sadly again there's a clear disregard for boating safety."
The survivors were handed over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigators in what is now an open law enforcement investigation as officials try to determine who the people on the boat were and who may have organized the journey.
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