A Coast Guard member rescues two young migrants on the morning of Nov. 21. U.S. COAST GUARD/Contributed

An overloaded vessel initially sighted in Key Largo carrying a large number of Haitian migrants on rough waters ran aground at the sandbar south of Whale Harbor in Islamorada around 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 21. Eighteen people were found in the water as multiple agencies rushed to rescue them from dangerous ocean currents.  

The vessel carrying the migrants was spotted off the shores of Key Largo during the early morning hours of Nov. 21. The rescue effort by the Coast Guard started after a good samaritan contacted Sector Key West around 5 a.m.

U.S. Coast Guard intercepts a sailing vessel carrying Haitian migrants near Rodriguez Key on Monday morning. U.S. COAST GUARD/Contributed

Around 22 people were successfully rescued from the sailboat off Rodriguez Key during the morning hours.  Efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard to rescue those remaining on the vessel was a dangerous day-long effort, according to Matt James, Coast Guard Station Islamorada commander. 

“We’ve transferred dozens of folks from the overloaded vessel to Coast Guard cutters on scene. There are still a lot more onboard,” he said at the time.  

The vessel kept going, however, until it landed on a sandbar not far from Whale Harbor.

The Coast Guard said 100-plus people were rescued before the vessel hit the sandbar. U.S Customs & Border Patrol, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation, Islamorada Fire Rescue and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office were among the responding agencies. On Tuesday, the Coast Guard announced that they successfully rescued 180 people.

As for rescue operations on the water, Coast Guard crews battled raging seas and 25 mph winds.

“They were reporting 8- to 10-foot seas. Seaside it increased from 10 feet to 10 to 14 (foot seas). We paused the effort until we could get better seas,” James told the Keys Weekly late afternoon on Nov. 21. 

The Keys continue to see a steady flow of Cuban migrants arriving on chugs, but it’s been several months since the island chain has dealt with a large vessel carrying Haitians. On Aug. 6, a sailboat with more than 300 Haitian men, women and children grounded near North Key Largo’s Ocean Reef Club. A total of 113 migrants hopped off the vessel and made it to land at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club. But 220 migrants remained on the boat. A swift rescue ensued by the U.S. Coast Guard, as many migrants were in the water without life jackets. 

Just two days later, the Florida Keys experienced another large migrant landing, this time a sailboat carrying 123 Haitian migrants ran aground offshore in the area of 79th Street Ocean in Marathon.

On March 6, multiple federal, state and local agencies responded to a massive migrant landing just off Ocean Reef in North Key Largo. According to the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, some 356 Haitian migrants were on an overloaded wooden vessel. Eight days later, a landing in Summerland Key saw roughly 120 Haitians coming to shore.

Migrants rescued from the water were put on Coast Guard cutters where they were given food and water.

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.