Seashells aren’t the only things found on Key Biscayne beaches.
At around 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, Michael Nearing, president of the Rotary Club of Key Biscayne, spotted a 15- to 20-foot spacecraft-like raft that had floated near the towers of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
An official with the US Customs and Border Patrol in Miami, which is part of the Division of Homeland Security, said on Sunday that the department was investigating.
Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa was also checking for any updates but said on Sunday afternoon the border patrol was in charge.
Resident Prudence Gill said two silver cones on the back of the raft – one with letters painted red – appeared to spell EMANUEL.
Dearing said the cones anchored the ship which was made of rusty mustard-colored cylinders with three sturdy metal or steel bars running across them for passengers to hang onto. At the base of the raft there were also two planks of wood, perhaps for the pilot to steer or observe.
Inside, it looked like it contained some kind of engine or carburetor. Nearing said it was actually a “propeller car engine mounted centrally inside and powered by one or more of the 55 gallon barrels on the side of the raft which was configured to serve as a Fuel tank”.
Nearing called it “ingenious assembly and welding skills” and “colors worthy of their own poster”.
David Adams, a 24-year Key Biscayne resident and digital reporter for Univision, showed Islander News in a video that the raft was certainly coming from Cuba. He held up a discarded bag from the raft of Vietnamese white rice with the words Alimport * Habana * Cuba on top with an expiration date of July 31, 2021.
Alimport is a Cuban public company established in Havana in 1962 and its main imports and exports are not only food, but also raw materials for the food industry.
Adams said the raft appears to be made from barrels or drums of Cuban honey. On one of the barrels he noticed the word Cubalse, the name of another state-owned enterprise founded in 1962 that would offer and sell goods and services to diplomats and foreigners in Cuba.
Adams estimated that 10 people could fit in the steel hull, which likely has a propeller under the engine, he said.
“The way they built it is ingenious, but they’ve had a lot of practice,” he said, referring to the number of Cubans over the years who have wanted to flee the country. “I saw a lot of Cuban rafts of all types. Usually they are made of wood, with thick plastic sheets and styrofoam blocks, all bolted together and with some type of industrial glue. And, there is usually a sail and a backup engine.
“I’ve never seen one like this … it’s an unusual fabrication.” If you look, it’s designed to mimic an inflatable boat.
Adams said the ship had reached shore, likely eluding authorities, as the US Coast Guard typically marked a large red “X” on the side after being intercepted and / or occupants were rescued.
“It looks quite seaworthy, surprisingly,” Adams said.
There was no word if anyone on board was still in Bill Baggs’ area.
Last August, a group of 42 Haitian migrants who may have landed somewhere near Crandon Park in Key Biscayne attempted to dodge the coast guard and police before being surrounded. The US Border Patrol and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, we are also among the agencies that responded to what has been termed a “sea smuggling event”.
It is approximately 224 direct miles from Havana to the State Park.
Just four days ago, US Border Patrol agents responded to yet another maritime smuggling event in the Florida Keys, where 15 Cuban migrants were federally detained and processed for deportation. They were assisted by the US Customs and Border Air and Marine Operations unit.
Bill Durham contributed to this report.