Sole survivor of migrant boat that capsized off Florida seeks political asylum

The sole survivor of a human smuggling operation that ended with 39 lives lost spoke to reporters Monday for the first time.

Juan Esteban Montoya says he was part of a group of 40 migrants that set out for Miami from Bimini in the Bahamas on Jan. 22.

But he said rough weather caused the boat to capsize a short time after their departure and no one onboard was wearing life jackets.

The Colombian national was found days later on Jan. 25, clinging to the 25-foot vessel about 40 miles off Fort Pierce.

A good Samaritan brought him onboard a commercial boat before he was picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to a hospital to be treated for dehydration and sun exposure.

Esteban Montoya said his sister was one of the people onboard the boat who didn’t make it, despite his efforts to save her.

“Losing her really hurt because I found strength where I had none to look for her ever since the boat capsized, and it was impossible to find her,” he said in Spanish.

Coast Guard officials confirmed that five bodies were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean last week and 34 others remain lost at sea and are presumed dead.

Esteban Montoya has since been reunited with his mother in Florida and is filing for political asylum.

The Miami office of Homeland Security Investigations has since launched an inquiry. Under federal law, a human smuggler convicted of causing a death is eligible for execution.

“The goal of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed venture,” HSI Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury told reporters last week.

“Please help us bring criminals who prey on and victimize the vulnerable migrant community to justice,” he added. “We don’t want anybody doing this again. … This is dangerous stuff.”

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