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The U.S. Coast Guard comes across a boat carrying Cuban migrants on June 11, 2022, south of Florida.

The U.S. Coast Guard comes across a boat carrying Cuban migrants on June 11, 2022, south of Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard Southeast/Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Coast Guard sent 45 people back to Cuba on Sunday after stopping them off the Florida Keys last week.

They were found in four boats on Wednesday and Friday as U.S. authorities report the largest exodus of Cubans since 2016.

At 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, a civilian reported to authorities a rustic vessel sighting 12 miles south of Boot Key.

On Friday, civilians reported three additional rustic boats to authorities in a 15-minute span. At 11:45 a.m., the first one was found 17 miles south of Long Key. And at noon, two were spotted 17 and 22 miles respectively south of Big Pine Key.

Once aboard a Coast Guard cutter, all migrants receive food, water, shelter and basic medical attention, according to the agency.

“The possibility of being stopped by Coast Guard crews while illegally migrating through the Caribbean Sea is high,” Lt. Commander Mark Cobb of the Coast Guard Seventh District said in a news release. “No one should risk their lives on unsafe rustic vessels in unpredictable seas.”

The Coast Guard tallies the number of migrants detained at sea by fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 of the following year. Since Oct. 1 of last year, Coast Guard crews have stopped 2,464 Cubans compared to:

—838 Cuban migrants in Fiscal Year 2021.

—49 Cuban migrants in Fiscal Year 2020.

—313 Cuban migrants in Fiscal Year 2019.

—259 Cuban migrants in Fiscal Year 2018.

—1,468 Cuban migrants in Fiscal Year 2017.

—5,396 Cuban migrants in Fiscal Year 2016.

On Tuesday, the Coast Guard returned 52 people to Cuba after stopping five rustic boats and one inflatable vessel off the Florida Keys.

At 6:30 p.m. on June 6, a Coast Guard crew found found a boat 35 miles south of Key West, and at 10:45 p.m. on June 9, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircrew spotted one 35 miles south of Marquesas Key.

On June 10, three vessels were detected in less than four hours. At 10:30 p.m., a Customs and Border Protection aircrew located a boat 17 miles south of Boot Key, and at noon, a civilian reported seeing another seven miles south of Key West. At 2 p.m., a Coast Guard crew detected a vessel taking on water 35 miles southwest of Key West.

And at 9:30 p.m. on June 11, a civilian notified the Coast Guard about an inflatable vessel 30 miles south of Islamorada.

©2022 Miami Herald.

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