In yet another signal of the increasingly dangerous voyages taken by Cuban migrants trying to make it to the United States, the Coast Guard rescued nearly three dozen men from a sinking rowboat off the shore of Boca Raton on Wednesday as the agency continued to search for two other rafters missing since Monday.
On Monday, a tugboat working in Biscayne Bay near Turkey Point, a nuclear power plant 24 miles south of Miami, spotted a man in the water clinging to Styrofoam and radioed the Coast Guard for help.
“He’s not unresponsive, but it looks like he’s having a tough time,” the boater said, according to a clip of the radio broadcast posted on the Internet. Rescuers found eight people floating in the water, hanging on to debris. The men had been lost at sea for 10 days.
Of the 13 original passengers, three swam to shore, three were airlifted to hospitals, five were taken aboard a Coast Guard cutter and two are still missing, Marilyn Fajardo, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said.
On Wednesday, a Coast Guard helicopter from Clearwater that had joined the search found 33 other Cuban men seven miles from the Boca Inlet aboard a grossly overloaded rowboat. The passengers were jumping into the sea, because the boat was taking on water, said Petty Officer Mark Barney.
The migrants were rescued and will be sent back to Cuba. Under United States policy, Cubans fleeing their homeland can stay here if they make landfall but must be sent back if they do not.
“They were lucky that the Coast Guard was there,” Mr. Barney said. “If we weren’t there and they had gone into the water, who knows what would have happened.”
The number of Cubans attempting to immigrate to the United States by sea has nearly doubled in the past two years, with many more of them in vessels that are unfit for the dangerous crossing over the Straits of Florida. Not since a rafter crisis flooded the seas 20 years ago has Florida seen so many unseaworthy crafts carrying Cubans.
“A lot of times they are not really vessels,” Mr. Barney said. “They are makeshift flotation devices. They can go out to sea, disappear, and no one would ever know.”