Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne is a 110-foot patrol boat based out of Key West, Fla., tasked with patrolling one of the Coast Guard’s most challenging operational areas – the Florida Straits.
On any given day, Key Biscayne may be required to conduct a variety of missions including protecting living marine resource, enforcing recreational boating safety laws, responding to maritime distress, or interdicting migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States.
One recent weekend was a microcosm of what patrol boats assigned in the 7th Coast Guard District do on a daily basis. In a 72-hour period, the 17-member crew of Key Biscayne interdicted a total of 28 migrants and two suspected smugglers.
It all began one morning as Key Biscayne was outbound from their homeport. The ship received tasking to assist Station Key West in investigating an overturned personal water craft. Once on scene, Key Biscayne embarked and processed four people. After some initial investigation, it was determined the lone American citizen in the group, and operator of the personal water craft, was a suspected smuggler. Working with partner agencies, the individual was transferred to awaiting Department of Homeland Security units ashore.
The next day brought no rest for the crew as a Coast Guard aircraft spotted three people stranded on the uninhabited Bahamian island of Cay Sal. Key Biscayne lowered their small boat and sent a boarding team to the uninhabited island. The three individuals on the island were in good health but reported others who they had departed Cuba with were still headed north; the three had elected to stay on the island because their raft had run out of food and fresh water, and they were concerned for the seaworthiness of the raft.
Given this information, and the preeminent concern for the safety of life at sea, Key Biscayne quickly embarked the three from Cay Sal and proceeded north along what was determined to be the raft’s most likely course. After a few hours of transit, and with the assistance of a Customs and Border Protection aircraft, Key Biscayne found the northbound raft just before midnight; the four remaining migrants, having no food or water, eagerly embarked the cutter.
A brief respite for the crew seemed in sight early the next morning when Key Biscayne transferred all 13 migrants to Coast Guard Cutter Maria Bray. However, no sooner had the last migrant been transferred when a Coast Guard air asset reported an object south of Key Biscayne. Again, the crew answered the call, arriving on scene with the unseaworthy vessel just as it was starting to sink. After the successful rescue, 14 migrants, were given initial care and processed.
Having steamed more than 600 miles in a period of two days, Key Biscayne had saved 25 lives. They turned toward Miami and then finally homeport.