PALM BEACH, Fla. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection said agents investigated a suspected "maritime smuggling event" near the Lake Worth Beach Pier on Friday morning.
According to Capt. Will Rothrock of the Palm Beach Police Department, witnesses reported seeing a 25-foot boat dropping off about 25 people on the beach along the 2700 block of South Ocean Boulevard just after 7:30 a.m.
The group ran onto the beach and the boat returned to sea.
Multiple agencies, including the Palm Beach Police Department, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the area.
Rothrock said 13 "suspected unauthorized immigrants" were taken into custody. Two of them were taken to a local hospital for non-life-threatening medical issues.
Palm Beach, FL: Earlier today, #BorderPatrol agents & LE partners responded to a maritime smuggling event & encountered 13 migrants of mixed nationalities (Romania, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago). The event is under federal investigation by @HSI_Miami. #palmbeach #florida #friday pic.twitter.com/QDgSnr6jRK— Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar (@USBPChiefMIP) December 9, 2022
Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar tweeted that the migrants were from multiple countries, including Haiti, Romania and Trinidad & Tobago.
In a written statement, U.S. Border Patrol said the migrants are now in federal custody and "will be interviewed and processed for removal proceedings."
According to Rothrock, the suspected smuggling boat — a 25-foot walkaround fishing vessel — was later intercepted in the ocean.
A lifeguard told WPTV said he saw a white boat come ashore, then 25 to 30 people hop off and run onto the beach.
"I noticed a boat coming quick to shore, thinking it was a diver emergency," lifeguard Brendan Andrews said.
At the time, Andrews was walking along the beach near the Four Seasons Resort hotel.
"Once I waved to the captain and asked if there was an emergency, gave him the thumbs up," Andrews said. "He gave me the thumbs up back, saying no emergency, and that's when a wave had turned the boat sideways, right on shore, exposing all the people in the back."
He said the people onboard then scattered.
"I asked them where they were from," Andrews said. "One guy said Haiti. Nobody said anything else."
The boat then took off, according to the lifeguard, who later witnessed law enforcement officers track the boat down about an hour later and take several people into custody.
Immigration attorney Richard Hujber of Boynton Beach said these human smuggling operations are occurring constantly.
"They are smugglers, criminals making a lot of money off people's desperation and misery," Hujber said. "From my perspective, because I get to hear these stories every day in my office, you hear the danger that they are in, the waves, the sharks, the boat that's not very big."
The Palm Beach Police Department asked anyone who saw a suspicious person or activity related to the migrant landing to call 561-838-5454.