While debate rages over an ongoing deployment of U.S. troops to the international border with Mexico on the eve of America’s midterm elections, the Coast Guard quietly continues to interdict attempts by Caribbean smugglers to sneak undocumented migrants into the country from the sea.
And the Coast Guard cutter Thetis was in the thick of two operations that netted 108 undocumented migrants from Haiti and the the Dominican Republic last week.
It all began on Thursday afternoon, when the crew of a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry maritime patrol aircraft spotted what officials told Navy Times was a “grossly overloaded” 20-foot boat heading toward Puerto Rico in the treacherous Mona Passage.
Authorities in San Juan ordered the Thetis to intercept it. When the Key West-based cutter overtook the boat, the crew found it was leaking. They rescued a Haitian man and 23 Dominicans, including a woman and two children.
They transferred the migrants to the cutter Joseph Napier and then that crew offloaded them to the cutter Winslow Griesser to repatriate them to the Dominican Republic.
On Tuesday, the Wislow Griesser handed them over to authorities in Santo Domingo.
“The excellent coordination between three Coast Guard cutters and Coast Guard Sector San Juan ensured the safe return of all 24 persons to the Dominican Republic, and serves as a constant reminder of the inherent dangers associated with taking to the sea in such overloaded and unseaworthy vessels,” said Lt. Luke A. Walsh, the commanding officer of the Winslow Griesser, in a statement emailed to Navy Times.
On Tuesday, the busy Thetis also repatriated 84 Haitian migrants to authorities in Port-au-Prince, two days after the crew detained them “for safety of life at sea concerns" about 30 miles southwest of Turks and Caicos Islands, according to a statement from San Juan authorities emailed to Navy Times.
“The overloaded vessel we interdicted was dead in the water and lacked basic safety equipment such as life jackets and flotation devices, which could have led to a fatal accident at sea,” said Cmdr. Randall Chong, the skipper of the Thetis. “I am very proud of my crew on the cutter Thetis for finding, aiding, and ultimately rescuing all persons on board and, we will continue to patrol the Caribbean and Florida Straits to ensure safety of life at sea.”
The operation involved the Key West-based cutter and a Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew that’s forward-deployed to Great Inagua in the Bahamas.
Coast Guard officials estimate that their crews have detained 132 undocumented Haitian migrants attempting to reach the United States since Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.
In Fiscal Year 2018, the Coast Guard interdicted 2,488 undocumented Haitians in the Straits of Florida, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.