By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI BEACH Fla. (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard searched on Tuesday for two missing Cuban rafters after the 11 others on their homemade vessel were plucked safely on Monday from the waters off Miami.
The most recent man saved was discovered at dusk on Monday about 10 miles (16 km) offshore and transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Sabrina Laberdesque.
The rescued members of the all-male group say they spent more than a week on the water trying to cross the 90-mile-wide (145-km-wide) Florida Straits that separate Cuba from the United States.
It remains unclear how many of them will be allowed to remain in the United States and how many will be repatriated to Cuba. Under Washington's "wet-foot, dry-foot policy," Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain under a special immigration exception, while those intercepted at sea are turned back.
Members of the group, clinging to debris, were first spotted Monday morning by a tugboat crew, setting off a rescue that drew in ships and helicopters to pull them from the water.
Three men were transported to local hospitals while five others who were rescued remain aboard a Coast Guard ship. The other three were processed and released into the United States by the U.S. Border Patrol on Monday, officials said.
"The Coast Guard is still determining the next course of action to take with the five Cubans on the cutter," said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios.
The group told U.S. officials they left the town of Cojimar just east of Havana on Oct. 18 on a homemade raft made from Styrofoam and inner tubes, said U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Frank Miller.
They collided with a coastal freighter on Saturday, damaging the raft, which began disintegrating, he added.
Cubans are leaving the island in increasing numbers by sea as migrants flee economic reforms to modernize the Communist-controlled island’s economy that they say are failing to improve living standards.
According to Coast Guard estimates, 3,722 Cubans tried to illegally reach the Florida coast by sea in the 12 months ending in September, 1,500 more than the previous year.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech)