FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A 6-year-old Cuban boy died Thursday during an apparent smuggling attempt when the boat he was overturned as it tried to elude the U.S. Coast Guard, authorities said.

The death of the boy, whom the Coast Guard did not identify Thursday, was the latest tragedy at sea this year involving Cubans trying to cross the Florida Straits. During the summer, two men died during separate smuggling incidents and Coast Guard officials think as many as 31 Cubans died after a speedboat capsized on its way to the United States from Cuba.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Doss said the child’s death underscores the dangers of smuggling and gives an important message to people who hire smugglers.

“When they’re paying someone to try and smuggle their family into the United States, this is the price that they’re really paying,” Doss said. “(Smugglers) don’t care about their family. They care about money. They’re going to do anything. This is the result that sadly it comes to.”

According to the Coast Guard, the boy was on a 33-foot speedboat that the Coast Guard cutter Dauntless spotted on radar about 45 miles south of Key West, just before 1 a.m. Thursday. The cutter went after the speedboat and when guardsmen saw the boat, they ordered it to stop.

But the suspected smuggler tried to flee, maneuvering the boat erratically in the process, officials said.

The cutter lost sight of the boat. About 20 minutes later, Coast Guard personnel found the then-capsized boat with 30 people clinging to the hull.

A Customs and Border Protection boat crew rescued 20 of the people in the water, while the Dauntless saved the other 10. But survivors told the Coast Guard a boy was missing.

A Coast Guard helicopter searched for the boy, but the Dauntless crew found his body when they righted the speedboat.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Cubans from the speedboat were on the Dauntless, with the boy’s parents among them, Doss said. Under the so-called wet foot-dry foot policy, immigration agents interview Cubans caught at sea aboard Coast Guard cutters. If the agents determine the Cubans do not have a credible fear of persecution if returned to Cuba, the Coast Guard repatriates them. Cubans who reach land are generally allowed to remain in the United States.

Cuban activist Ramon Saul Sanchez, of Democracy Movement, condemned the smugglers’ actions, but said the boy’s death underscores the unfairness of that policy.

Sanchez said he understands the United States has to protect its borders, but he said the government should allow Cubans caught at sea to adequately present their cases for political asylum.

The current policy encourages smuggling, Sanchez said.

“Here we have a situation where a life has been lost, a child has died because of this law,” he said. “If you know you’re going to have an equal opportunity to expose your case, then you don’t have to run from the authorities.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez confirmed there is an “active ongoing investigation” surrounding the incident, but declined further details, including whether anyone was in custody.

Charges brought against smugglers in cases that result in death can carry steep sentences, including life in prison.

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