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Pentagon Channel Follows as Coast Guard Patrols Perilous Passage

By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2007 – The September edition of the Pentagon Channel’s monthly documentary “Recon” will focus on the Coast Guard’s efforts in the Caribbean Sea’s most perilous waterway.

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Small-boat crews from the Coast Guard cutter Escanaba transfer Haitian migrants from an overloaded sail freighter to the Escanaba. The 101 Haitian migrants eventually were repatriated to Cap Haitien, Haiti. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Newland

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The show, titled “Perilous Passage,” will provide an inside look at the men and women of the Coast Guard who patrol Mona Passage, a treacherous 80-mile strait separating the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Refugees crammed into tiny boats, known as “yolas,” risk their lives to navigate this passage.

“We’ve seen 35-foot vessels with well over 100 people on board,” said Lt. Molly Waters, executive officer of the Coast Guard cutter Sapelo. “And when they’re loaded to that extent, they become very top-heavy and unstable, especially in rough seas.”

The danger of Mona Passage was tragically demonstrated in December 2004, when human smugglers packed 91 immigrants onto a tiny yola bound for Puerto Rico. Within sight of shore, the boat capsized, and eight passengers perished in the crashing surf. Five Dominican men were convicted of human smuggling and sent to prison. At the time, holding smugglers responsible for putting human lives at grave risk was rare.

Critically crowded conditions aboard the yolas are painfully evident on video shot by Coast Guard members during actual rescue operations and provided to the Pentagon Channel.

The show will debut Sept. 3 at noon eastern time on the Pentagon Channel and will encore throughout September.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCoast Guard personnel transfer Haitian refugees to a U.S. Coast Guard small boat. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Sapp  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Coast Guard cutter Key Largo interdicted eight Cuban migrants 25 miles off Cuba. The migrants were drifting in a raft made of 55-gallon drums. The migrants were repatriated to Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Ryon Little  
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