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Four dead after boat carrying apparent migrants capsizes off Florida coast

Coast Guard workers found four bodies and one survivor underneath the boat.

Walter Michot/miami herald via associated press

Coast Guard workers found four bodies and one survivor underneath the boat.

MIAMI BEACH — Ten people were found clinging to the hull of a small boat that capsized early Wednesday off South Florida, trapping the bodies of four dead women and one survivor in a tiny pocket of air beneath it.

The fifteen people appeared to be making a perilous journey that thousands try each year. Migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and other Caribbean countries routinely attempt to illegally enter the United States by reaching Florida’s coast in overloaded or unseaworthy vessels, often through established smuggling networks that include islands in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

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Early Wednesday, one of the survivors called 911 on a cellphone, alerting authorities to their location seven miles east of Miami.

‘‘Sadly, and tragically, we did find four females, adults, underneath the boat that had perished,’’ said Coast Guard Commander Darren Caprara.

The survivor found when Coast Guard officials flipped over the boat was suffering seizures, and he was taken by boat to a Miami Beach hospital, officials said. He was treated and released to federal law enforcement.

The rest of the survivors were in good condition and were taken into custody aboard a Coast Guard vessel while authorities investigated whether they were part of a human smuggling operation. It was not immediately clear whether they would be brought to the United States or sent back to their home countries.

‘‘Well, obviously, 15 people on a boat, transiting in the middle of the night with no life jackets is a very, very unsafe condition,’’ Caprara said.

Caprara said that authorities were working to confirm that the people on the boat were Haitian and Jamaican.

‘‘That’s still a lengthy process that involves contacting other countries and doing some investigatory research,’’ Caprara said.

The small white recreational boat with its center console missing was towed to dry land. It had been overloaded and lacked lifejackets, Caprara said.

Authorities didn’t immediately confirm that those on the boat that capsized Wednesday were migrants fleeing their home countries. However, the circumstances made it seem likely that they were part of a global phenomenon of people taking desperate risks to escape poverty and instability, said David Abraham, who teaches immigration law at the University of Miami School of Law. In two cases earlier this month, hundreds of migrants packed into smugglers’ boats capsized on their way from Africa to Italy.

‘‘It should be no surprise to anyone so long as the disparity between the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere and the richest place in the hemisphere is so grave and the distances covered are considered worth the risk,’’ Abraham said.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Coast Guard picked up 508 Haitians and 1,357 Cubans at sea. Since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, the Coast Guard has picked up 93 Haitians and 117 Cubans.

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