Published On: November 15th, 2023Last Updated: November 15th, 20234.5 min read

34 Cuban Migrants Rescued From Sinking Vessel in The Florida Keys

Last Friday started like any other typical day at the Main Attraction. Still dark out, the crew met at the marina and loaded the bait boat to catch live bait for their charters that day. Once they returned to the Marathon Sailfish Marina, they loaded the 49-footer, Main One, with lots of fresh live bait and finished prepping the boat.

Upon the customer’s arrival, Captain Marty Lewis reviewed the proper way to use the fishing equipment, the location of life jackets, and other safety protocols. Taking advantage of the unusually tranquil weather for this time of year, Captain Marty pointed the Main One southward on course for the Marathon Hump. Captain Marty planned to look for birds, debris, and weed lines while running to the Blackfin Tuna fishing grounds.

Approximately 10 miles out, Captain Marty noticed something floating in the water. He slowed the Main One down and asked one of the mates to put some baits out, as he thought he was approaching a large rope or tree floater.

As Marty got closer, he noticed a lot of splashing in the water and wondered if it was fish on top of the water. Instead, he saw heads and shoulders just above the water line as he got closer. It was, in fact, a large group of people in the water!

Migrants Sinking Boat

34 people clinged to this sinking vessel for two days before Captain Marty Lewis discovered them.

Captain Marty could see a submerged vessel underneath them as he approached, barely floating. There were 34 migrants altogether clinging to anything they possibly could. Captain Marty immediately radioed the United States Coast Guard for help. Captain Marty stated his vessel name and position and explained the situation.

As the Main One drew near, they promptly began tossing bottled water to the group, who wasted no time in guzzling it. Captain Marty had one person on board who spoke a little Spanish and could communicate with the group in the water. The migrants stated they had been at sea for four days, two of those days clinging to the submerged sunken boat. They were still ten miles from land at this point. It is hard to imagine how scared these people were.

While Captain Marty awaited the Coast Guard assistance, he radioed back and forth, answering as many of their questions as possible. They asked Captain Marty if all personnel were accounted for if anyone was injured, and if anyone was deceased. The migrants confirmed everyone was present and alive.

Within 15 minutes, the Coast Guard aircraft was circling the stated position. Shortly after, multiple Coast Guard vessels arrived and started loading the migrants on board. While the boats were busy, the Coast Guard helicopter surveyed the area to ensure no other migrants had drifted away from the submerged vessel.

FL Keys Coast Guard Rescue

The US Coast Guard responded quickly to Captain Marty’s radio for assistance.

The large Coast Guard Cutter arrived about an hour after the initial call-in. Our understanding is that after the smaller Coast Guard vessels get all the people out of the water, they transport them to the Cutter for evaluation and potentially ship them back to their country of origin.

The total operation took about an hour, and once the Coast Guard had the majority onboard, Captain Marty radioed to the command center that he was on charter and on his way to continue his fishing trip. Captain Marty thanked the Coast Guard for their prompt response time, and they also extended gratitude for being a good Samaritan.

As the Main One pulled away, Captain Marty continued his journey to the Marathon Hump. Upon his arrival, he threw out live bait for Blackfin Tuna. It was only a short time before his clients had obtained their limit of Tuna.

While offshore, they also deep-dropped some baits and caught four beautiful Queen snappers. On their way back, Captain Marty and his customers were chatting to his charter clients about the unusual morning they had when he spotted a floating bamboo log and caught a mahi swimming under it.

Queen Snapper FL Keys

Despite the unusual morning the clients still had a great catch.

About an hour after Captain Marty radioed into the Coast Guard, Channel 10 News anchor Janine Stanwood called the Main Attraction. While Captain Marty was offshore, his wife, Katie Lewis, helped answer some questions and sent her the video Marty had captured that morning. Ms. Stanwood and Katie communicated throughout the day, as Captain Marty was still out of phone range. Ms. Stanwood decided to take a trip to Marathon and meet Captain Marty and his charter clients from Philadelphia to get an exclusive interview upon their return.


Captain Marty Being Interviewed by the Local Channel 10 News.

Later that day, the Coast Guard confirmed 34 migrant lives were saved that morning. In addition to New Channel 10, we were also contacted by CNN, NBC, CBS, and other local Miami news stations, all of whom ran the story that day. It wasn’t a day we will soon forget!

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