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Captain sentenced after fatal migrant smuggling

A 63-year-old Dominican boat captain was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation.

Crecencio Hernandez was sentenced June 19 by U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a charge of conspiring to encourage and induce illegal aliens to enter the United States without permission, resulting in the death of six aliens.

On Oct. 24, 2008, a wooden rustic vessel with approximately 40 foreign nationals from the Dominican Republic and Brazil sailed from the coastal city of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and headed toward Miami. Hernandez had agreed with the Dominican organizers of the trip to captain the vessel. The purpose of the trip was to smuggle the passengers into the U.S. through Miami. Hernandez admitted he knew his passengers were not U.S. citizens and nationals, and that they did not have permission to enter the country. Hernandez also admitted that he steered the vessel, helped navigate the route, directed the crew, and ordered the passengers to maintain calm.

On Oct. 31, 2008, the wooden vessel hit a sandbar off the shore of Virginia Key. The boat tipped over and most of the passengers and crew jumped into the water and began swimming to shore. The weather was windy, the waters were rough and the passengers, having been at sea for eight days with little water and food, were tired and weak. Six male passengers died trying to swim to the shore. Subsequently, ICE special agents conducted a criminal investigation that resulted in the Nov. 7, 2008 arrest and charging of Hernandez.