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Handling a Refugee Encounter

What to do if you encounter a refugee boat.

December 8, 2010

If you spend much time on the waterways of south Florida or throughout the Caribbean, there’s a chance you may come across a refugee boat. So, what should you do if this ever happens?

The U.S. Coast Guard says that common sense is the most important tool in a situation like this. While migrant interdiction is a law enforcement activity, safety at sea is also paramount. Here were its general guidelines:

1. Remain calm, and do not approach the migrant vessel unless it is in immediate distress. Avoid boarding the vessel at all cost unless it is in danger of sinking or drifting into shoal water.

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2. Report the exact location and estimated course and speed of the vessel to the closest Coast Guard station or any other maritime authority using any available means of communication.

3. Prepare additional life jackets or other flotation devices should someone end up in the water.

4. If the vessel is taking on water or there are urgent medical concerns, render appropriate assistance or first aid if you can. However, do not place yourself in jeopardy. (The Coast Guard notes that dehydration and seasickness are common among refugees.)
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5.** Do not bring migrants to shore unless there is an urgent medical situation.

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6. Finally, remain on the scene until the authorities arrive. Recreational boaters can play a huge role in helping in a situation like this — you’ve just got to use your common sense.

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