Captain of boat stopped off Key West faces migrant smuggling charges

The Coast Guard Cutter Isaac Mayor intercepts the boat High Trollers Thursday.
The Coast Guard Cutter Isaac Mayor intercepts the boat High Trollers Thursday. U.S. Coast Guard

The captain of a center console boat stopped near Key West last week has been arrested on migrant smuggling charges.

Sandro Ramon Matos, 30, was behind the wheel of a gaudily painted 26-foot boat named High Trollers that was stopped by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat about 36 nautical miles south of Key West. On board were six men, five women and a girl, all from Cuba, who were trying to illegally enter the United States, according to a Homeland Security Investigations criminal complaint.

The Coast Guard in Key West were tipped off to the boat by the Cuban Border Guard. That agency told U.S. authorities that a “go-fast” boat picked up a group of people near Havana and was heading north.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations plane spotted the twin-outboard vessel as it made its way toward the Keys, according to HSI Special Agent Jaime Haniff’s report.

The boat was carrying six fuel drums, a fuel transfer pump, a GPS mounted to the console, a satellite phone and food supplies, according to the report.

One of the men on the boat, whom Haniff identifies by his initials, Y.F.M., had been previously deported. He identified Matos as the captain of the High Trollers and told agents he was supposed to pay him $12,000 upon arrival in the country, Haniff stated in the complaint.

The High Trollers is registered to a woman living in Hialeah, according to the Coast Guard’s Maritime Documentation Center.

The arrest was part of a busy couple of weeks for the Coast Guard operating in the Florida Straits. The next day, the Coast Guard found nine Cubans hiding on the island of Cay Sal, an uninhabited island located in between Key West and Cuba. On Sunday, April 7, a Coast Guard landing party found eight people from Cuba hiding on the island.

Two days before that, a Coast Guard cutter stopped a boat 24 miles east of the island ferrying 11 migrants.