Sun Herald

The U.S. Coast Guard returned to Cuba 34 migrants picked up last week, bringing the number of Cubans stopped at sea this year to more than 2,000—the largest number in any year since the rafter exodus in 1994.

The migrants were rescued during four separate events last week, according to a Coast Guard statement issued Friday in Miami.

Homeland Security officials have attributed the increased migrant activity in the Florida Straits to extremely calm seas in recent days. But Coast Guard and Border Patrol officials say the higher numbers do not point to a larger exodus.

Nevertheless, the total number of Cubans picked up at sea so far in 2005 reached 2,029 Thursday—the largest number in one year since 37,191 were stopped at sea in 1994. The number of Cubans intercepted so far this year is 530 more than 2004, when 1,499 were picked up.

Meanwhile, the number of Cuban migrants reaching South Florida shores this fiscal year is also up. According to recent Border Patrol statistics, about 1,800 Cubans have reached South Florida shores so far in fiscal year 2005—845 more than during all of fiscal year 2004. Fiscal years run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

In the latest suspected migrant smuggling, one person died and another was injured Saturday when a boat caught fire 40 miles southeast of Key West. The Coast Guard said a Customs and Border Protection aircraft crew spotted the speedboat on fire with two people and extra fuel barrels aboard. The Coast Guard cutter Metompkin was dispatched to the scene. The two people aboard jumped into the water. Only one person was rescued.