A small wooden sailboat carrying suspected Cuban rafters landed on a deserted beach near Miami early on Tuesday morning.
The five men were later seen being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the nearby luxury Ritz Carlton hotel on Key Biscayne, an exclusive residential island just south of downtown Miami.
The boat, named La Teresita, bore the name on its stern of the Cuban town Caibarién in Santa Clara province. It had engine mountings and a customized propeller shaft, but the motor and rudder were missing.
Border Patrol agents told Univision reporters at the scene that they suspected the boat was part of a smuggling operation. Cubans have been known to leave the island on motorized vessels before transferring to smaller boats close to the Florida shoreline.
Under the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" immigration policy, Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain and apply for residency under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Those intercepted at sea are sent back.
The five men were interviewed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and claimed to have departed from Caibarien six days earlier on August 10, according to officials. Department of Homeland Security sources later told Univision that investigators had concluded it was a "legitimate landing" and the Cubans would be released.
Cubans seeking to flee the Communist-run island have taken to boats to reach the United States in increasing numbers since late 2014 when Cuba and the United States announced they were reestablishing official relations. The journey across the treacherous Florida Straits is about 90 miles from Cuba's north coast to Key West, or 230 miles to Miami.
So far this fiscal year (Oct 2015-Oct 2016) almost 47,000 Cubans have arrived at U.S. ports of entry, mostly at the border with Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That's almost double the number in 2014.
|Fiscal Year (Oct-Oct)||Cuban migrants|
|FY 2016 (up to July 11)||44,353|
Florida politicians, including Senator Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, have complained the Cuban Adjustment Act is being "abused" by Cuban seeking economic benefits in the United States.
On board the boat on Tuesday were plastic bottles of engine oil and water, as well as nylon fishing wire, a solar powered transistor radio, and some soaking wet clothing.
"Awful small boat for people to be in," observed a park ranger at the beach in Bill Baggs Cape Florida state park.