Migrant Interdiction: Safety of life at sea

A smallboat crew from the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma bring aboard Haitian migrants interdicted at sea from a sail freighter south of Acklins Island, Bahamas in this file photo from 2010. Coast Guard crews rescue undocumented migrants who put their lives in danger by attempting to enter the U.S. illegally on grossly overloaded vessels. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A smallboat crew from the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma bring aboard Haitian migrants interdicted at sea from a sail freighter south of Acklins Island, Bahamas in this file photo from 2010. Coast Guard crews rescue undocumented migrants who put their lives in danger by attempting to enter the U.S. illegally on grossly overloaded vessels. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Post written by LCDR Matt Moorlag, public affairs officer, 7th Coast Guard District

As the United States’ primary maritime law enforcement agency, the Coast Guard is tasked with enforcing immigration law at sea. The Coast Guard conducts patrols and coordinates with other federal agencies and foreign countries to interdict undocumented migrants at sea, denying them entry via maritime routes to the United States, its territories and possessions. Thousands of people try to enter this country illegally every year using maritime routes, many via smuggling operations.

The Coast Guard and its partner agencies use a layered approach to maritime migrant interdiction operations. Cutters patrol offshore, effectively pushing America’s borders outward. Aircraft and patrol boats add speed and agility to our patrol efforts, covering large areas and resulting in faster responses to intelligence reports or visual sightings of potential migrant vessels. In the nearshore areas, federal, state and local law enforcement boats conduct regular patrols and provide the last maritime line of defense against migrants reaching shore illegally.

Many attempts to illegally migrate to the U.S. involve some type of smuggling venture, which makes them inherently dangerous. Smugglers focus on maximizing profits, not the safety of their passengers. This frequently results in grossly overloaded vessels or vessels that aren’t carrying the necessary safety equipment. Oftentimes smugglers go out of their way to avoid detection departing late at night and without lights; sometimes with deadly results. When vessels are detected by law enforcement authorities, brazen smugglers, who choose to refuse to comply with lawful orders to stop, force authorities to compel compliance through the skillful application of approved use of force techniques.

Seaman Rene Preito, a crewmember onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute, a 210-foot ship home-ported in St. Petersburg, Fla., hands meals out to interdicted illegal Cuban migrants in this file photo from 2007. All interdicted migrants are given food, water and medical attention. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Seaman Rene Preito, a crewmember onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute, a 210-foot ship home-ported in St. Petersburg, Fla., hands meals out to interdicted illegal Cuban migrants in this file photo from 2007. All interdicted migrants are given food, water and medical attention. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Over the past two weeks, Coast Guard crews took part in two interdictions made hundreds of miles away from each other and involving migrants of two different nationalities using two very different types of vessels in their attempt to reach the United States illegally.

On Thursday, the Coast Guard Cutter Bear repatriated 86 Haitian migrants to Cap Haitien, Haiti, after they were interdicted at sea in a grossly overloaded sail freighter. Although still well within normal migration levels for this time of year, this was the second repatriation of the week for units under District Seven tactical control.

Last Monday, 14 Cuban migrants were rescued by a good Samaritan after the 36-foot vessel they were allegedly being smuggled in became disabled and started sinking near the Bahamas. All 14 Cuban migrants were returned to Bahia de Cabañas, Cuba, by the Coast Guard Cutter Ocracoke on March 7. The two suspected smugglers were transferred to authorities in Key West, Fla., March 6.

Migrant interdiction is just one of the many missions performed every day by the Coast Guard. Crews engage in law enforcement patrols aimed at preventing illegal fishing in U.S. waters, illegal immigration and drug trafficking as part of a multi-agency approach to protecting the security and sovereignty of our nation.

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