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Haitian Migrants’ Boat Runs Aground

January 2, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ More than 400 would-be migrants packed shoulder-to-shoulder on a wooden boat had to be persuaded by Coast Guard crews to abandon ship after the boat ran aground on a sandbar early Saturday about a mile from Key Biscayne.

All 406 Haitians and Dominicans eventually climbed voluntarily aboard Coast Guard cutters, said Petty Officer Scott Carr. He said the group may have been at sea on the 60-foot vessel for as long as five days.

The boat ran aground at 2:30 a.m. about 1 1/2 miles from the Cape Florida Lighthouse and near Stiltsville, a cluster of homes built on pilings in Biscayne Bay.

With low tide approaching, Coast Guard officers feared the boat would capsize. But when the first Coast Guard cutter approached the boat, many of the people on board refused to leave, Carr said.

Coast Guard officers boarded the boat, handed out life jackets to the passengers and tried to explain that the boat was not safe. They told the passengers that regardless of what happened, they would not be allowed to enter the United States, he said.

By 1 p.m., all of the boat’s passengers had been moved to five waiting Coast Guard cutters.

Two women on the boat _ one five-months pregnant and possibly injured from an earlier fall, and the other suffering from fever and convulsions _ were taken to a nearby hospital.

The other passengers are expected to remain on the cutters until INS officials make a decision about their future. Coast Guard officials said they don’t know where the boat originated or the circumstances of its voyage.

Under a Haiti-U.S. agreement, would-be immigrants are returned once they are intercepted. Cuban immigrants, however, are generally allowed to stay in this country if they reach land.

In 1999, the Coast Guard rescued or turned back 363 Haitians and 406 Dominicans trying to reach the United States.

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