MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The search continues for two Cuban migrants who are missing at sea after their raft broke apart off the coast of South Florida.READ MORE: Cavaliers End 20-Game Losing Streak in Miami, Beat Heat 111-85
The group of 13 migrants left Cuba about a week ago but their raft broke apart before reaching land.
The U.S. Coast Guard received a report that several people were in the water and holding on to inner tubes and Styrofoam four miles east of Sands Key in Miami’s Biscayne Bay shortly after 10 a.m. Monday.
Two pleasure crafts responded to an alert issued by authorities and rescued five of the migrants. Three more were plucked from the water by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Of those five, two were taken to Mercy Hospital and the third to Customs and Border Protection.
Two others made it to land after they swam to Eliott Key, just south of Sands Key. They were taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol for processing and were expected to be permitted to remain in the U.S.
Under the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cuban migrants who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay, while those who are caught at sea are returned.
Another was rescued by a boater and taken to the Miami Beach Coast Guard Station.
Two remain missing.
Firefighter Michael Perez said two men were hanging on to pieces of foam and appeared to be getting weak when his helicopter arrived on the scene. He saw a shark nearby and quickly lowered a basket into the water.READ MORE: Workers Rescued From Partially Collapsed Scaffold In Hallandale Beach
The men jumped in and Perez hoisted them into the chopper.
“Water,” the men begged.
Perez said the migrants described being at sea for 10 days aboard a homemade raft. The vessel began taking in water before it broke apart Sunday night, they said.
There has been a significant increase over the last year in the number of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. by sea. At least 3,722 were intercepted at sea or made it to shore in the last fiscal year, a 75 percent increase.
Most Cuban migrants who flee by sea leave on rafts cobbled together from metal, wood and Styrofoam and powered by a makeshift motor. Scholars estimate one in four migrants do not survive the journey.
In 1994, rafts carried as many as 35,000 Cuban refugees into the United States, said Juan Tamayo, the former head of Cuban affairs for the Miami Herald.
“The Cuban economy was bankrupt, more than bankrupt, it was in total chaos,” said Tamayo. “Over a period of four years, the economy shrank by about 35-percent. People were hungry.”
While he doesn’t expect anything like the 1994 exodus from Cuba, Tamayo says there are factors pushing a new wave of immigrants to leave the island country now.
“The reforms that were announced and tried to put into place by Raul Castro have not worked out that way that they wanted them to, and people are getting frustrated in Cuba and they say, “We’ll we’ve waited long enough.'”
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