Coast Guard searches for at least 39 missing people in what it says was a "suspected human smuggling venture" off the coast of Florida.

A survivor says the boat had left the Bahamas on Saturday night but encountered rough weather and capsized.
A survivor says the boat had left the Bahamas on Saturday night but encountered rough weather and capsized. (Reuters)

The US Coast Guard has launched a search for 39 people reported missing when a boat capsized off the coast of Florida in what it said was a "suspected human smuggling venture."

The Coast Guard in Miami received a report about a man "clinging to a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles [72 kilometres] east of Fort Pierce inlet," the statement said on Tuesday.

The survivor said the boat had left the Bahamas on Saturday night but encountered rough weather and capsized, and that no one on board was wearing a life jacket.

The man said he was with a group of 39 others that left the island of Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday night. He said the boat capsized in severe weather and that no one was wearing life jackets.

The Coast Guard is calling it a case of human smuggling. Officials said on Twitter that they are searching by both air and sea over a roughly 135-mile (218-kilometer) area extending from Bimini to the Fort Pierce Inlet.

The agency patrols the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas, along routes often used by migrants trying to reach the US. The agency stops and repatriates foreigners found navigating in US waters.

On Friday, the Coast Guard found 88 Haitians in an overloaded sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas.

“Navigating the Florida straits, Windward and Mona Passages ... is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said in a statement last weekend.

Last July, the Coast Guard rescued 13 people after their boat capsized off of Key West as Tropical Storm Elsa approached.

The survivors said they had left Cuba with 22 people aboard. Nine went missing in the water.

READ MORE: Several dead as suspected smuggling boat capsizes off San Diego

Source: TRTWorld and agencies