A boat crudely fashioned of wood, packing foam and a plastic sheet, carried two dozen Cuban migrants to Sea Oats Beach on Lower Matecumbe Key on Christmas.
"The seas were terrible and that small boat definitely was not seaworthy," said Allison Estape, an island resident who saw the arrivals.
The group of 24 men, most apparently in their late teens or 20s, was among 52 Cubans who reached Keys shores from Key West to Islamorada on Dec. 25, say agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
On Dec. 26, another 22 Cuban migrants were found along Keys shores.
"Overall, most were in good health," said Customs and Border Protection officer Jeffrey Quinones. "Some exhibited dehydration symptoms that are common [after] venturing on a sea crossing."
"It's important to note that CBP in the Caribbean consistently warns about the perils of traversing the sea on unsafe or unseaworthy vessels," Quinones said.
All the migrants were taken into custody for processing by federal officials.
"If they are Cubans and qualify under the Cuban Adjustment Act, they're released," said Frank Miller, assistant chief agent for the Border Patrol.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office and Border Patrol report that in the two-day span, arrivals totaled 74 people:
- Fourteen Cubans were found around 4:15 a.m. Friday at the Walgreens parking lot in Marathon. They were "wet but in good condition," the Sheriff's Office said.
- Lower Matecumbe residents spotted "a rowboat with a sail" with the 24 Cubans coming ashore at Sea Oats Beach, on the oceanside near mile marker 74, around 9:15 a.m. Friday
- At Key West's Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, a 9:30 a.m. caller reported seeing several migrants on the shore Friday. It turned out to be another 14 Cubans. There was no information on how they reached shore.
- A group of 16 Cubans came ashore at Bahia Honda State Park at mile marker 36.5 in the Lower Keys on Saturday.
- Six more Cubans were found in Islamorada on Saturday.
No children were reported among this week's arrivals. And no information was available at press time Tuesday on the number of migrants reaching the Keys in 2015.
The Cuban migrants qualifying for entry into the U.S. often contact family or friends in South Florida for transportation to the Miami area. Others are picked up by church groups or other charities, Miller said.