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The story behind the picture of this lone survivor

by Feb 1, 2022World News

The photograph of a lone survivor on the hull of an overturned migrant boat in the middle of the sea off Florida has been beamed around the world.

BBC Mundo has learned the man is Juan Esteban Montoya, 22, from Colombia.

Mr Montoya, who was rescued on Tuesday after spending hours adrift, said he left the Bahamas at dawn on Sunday with 39 other people.

He was travelling with his younger sister, María Camila, who disappeared in the shipwreck.

The US Coast Guard recovered five bodies from the sea before ending its search – across a sea area the size of the US state of New Jersey – at sunset on Thursday.

Officials were alerted on Tuesday when a commercial vessel spotted a man clinging to the hull of a boat some 45 miles (72km) from Fort Pierce, Florida.

The vessel may have been part of a “human smuggling venture”, US officials said.

None of the 40 passengers were wearing a life vest, said Mr Montoya, who comes from the municipality of Guacarí, in the Cauca Valley region of Colombia.

He was rescued on Tuesday when the captain of the tugboat, Signet Intruder, saw him in distress.

The operations manager of the Signet shipping company in Florida told Atahualpa Amerise of BBC Mundo: “At 8:05 we brought him on board and he was treated immediately, since he was dehydrated, and we gave him water and some soft food. He was very weak and very anguished.

“He told us there were 40 people in his boat in total, including himself, and that, after leaving Bimini at midnight from Saturday to Sunday, they completed four hours of travel until bad weather caused the ship to capsize.”

About 20 of them would have endured hours clinging to the remains of the hull, Mr Montoya told the crew.

Captain Jo-Ann Burdian, the commander of the Coast Guard’s Miami sector, told a news conference the incident occurred on a “normal” human smuggling route from the Bahamas into the southern US.

Conditions on Sunday included a severe cold front, high waves and strong winds.

The island of Bimini is the western-most district of the Bahamas, and is only 50 miles from Miami.

Incidents involving vessels crowded with people are not uncommon in the waters off Florida. Many of the cases involve migrants from Cuba and Haiti trying to reach the US.

On Tuesday – the same day as authorities learned of the capsized vessel – the Coast Guard intercepted 191 Haitian nationals in the waters near the Bahamas. In a separate incident just days earlier, 88 Haitians were found in an overloaded ship in the area.

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