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#4574: 24 Haitians detained in smuggling bid off Sunny Isles Beach (fwd)


Published Tuesday, July 11, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 24 Haitians detained in smuggling bid off Sunny Isles Beach
 Disabled cabin cruiser spotted as it was being rowed to shore
 Twenty-four Haitians who paddled up to Sunny Isles Beach on a disabled
cabin cruiser just before dawn Monday were rounded up by waiting police
and turned over to federal authorities. The U.S. Border Patrol said it
was an alien-smuggling operation from the Bahamas that didn't go as
planned, apparently because the 25-foot Bertram cruiser broke down
 just offshore. A boater in the area spotted the cruiser and alerted the
Coast Guard, which in turn notified the Border Patrol and Sunny Isles
Beach Police about 5 a.m. Police were waiting for the boat when it came
aground off the beach near 167th Street. Investigators questioning the
Haitians believe the smugglers are among those detained, said Border
Patrol Assistant Chief Joseph Mellia. But by Monday evening, the
passengers had refused to identify them, he said. Instead, they insisted
they stole the boat in Haiti, a story Mellia said doesn't wash. The
cruiser, he said, is registered in the Bahamas, and the boat could not
 have made the roughly 700-mile trip from Haiti on a single tank of
fuel. ``There is no way that cabin cruiser is going to make it from
Haiti,'' Mellia said. He added Bimini, directly east of Miami, is a far
more likely departure point. ``Logically and historically, when we get
Haitians in Miami they usually come from Bimini. From the simple fact
that no one got away, we know the smuggler is on board.'' The group
consisted of 16 men, seven women and one boy, the Border Patrol
 said. It is relatively rare for such a large group of illegal
immigrants from Haiti to land -- or at least to be apprehended -- in
Miami-Dade County. The last group detained in Miami-Dade by the Border
Patrol consisted of nine Haitians who landed on Sunny Isles Beach on
June 4, Mellia said. Most landings now occur in Palm Beach County, which
is due west of Grand Bahama Island, which has sizable communities of
Haitian immigrants. The cruiser that carried Monday's group was equipped
with twin 200-horsepower engines and its interior had been stripped out,
apparently for ferrying illegal immigrants, Mellia said. Normally, he
said, smugglers would time their landing between 3 and 4 a.m