The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 4, 2001; Page A02

Haitians Rescued From Boat Stuck Off Fla. Coast

By Sue Anne Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer

MIAMI, Dec. 3 -- A heavily overloaded sailboat with more than 180 Haitians was found off Biscayne National Park today, sending Coast Guard and National Park
Service officials racing to rescue the hungry and dehydrated passengers before the boat capsized.

A passing boater alerted authorities about the 50-foot sailboat about 8 a.m. The vessel had run aground near Elliott Key, and rescuers were afraid it was so rickety
and overloaded it would capsize, said Petty Officer Gene Smith, a Coast Guard spokesman.

"We're doing our best to ensure the safety of everybody," Smith said at noon, as Haitians were being moved from the sailboat to Coast Guard cutters.

The passengers, who apparently were trying to enter the United States illegally, were transferred to a National Park Service ranger station on nearby Adams Key,
where they were given food and water. A Coast Guard helicopter searched the ocean and tiny islands around Caesar's Creek for other Haitians who had jumped
overboard and swam ashore.

No injuries were reported.

Today's group was notable because of its size, Smith said, but it was not the largest boatload of Haitian refugees found in the waters off South Florida. In 1997, an
80-foot boat with 420 Haitians aboard made national headlines when it was discovered here.

Smith said there was "a good chance" the Haitians will be turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and repatriated to Haiti. The Coast Guard has
returned 1,453 Haitians this year through September.

Authorities said they doubt that today's vessel was one of two missing boats that left Haiti last month and are feared capsized by Hurricane Michelle. "I think the
timing is too far apart," said National Park Service spokesman Gary Bremen.

                                               © 2001