June 12, 2006

Boat sinks off Florida, nine reported missing

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - A boat carrying nine people sank off
Florida's Atlantic Coast, the vessel's operator said in a
distress call to Coast Guard crews who searched on Monday for
the missing boaters.

Squalls from Tropical Storm Alberto reduced visibility for
the search crews, but it was unclear whether the sinking was
weather-related, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil said.

The boat operator described the sinking in a 63-minute
radio call to the Coast Guard late on Sunday night, until
communications were lost. He told the Coast Guard he was the
driver of a 33-foot (10-meter) boat taking on water near the
Boynton Beach Inlet on Florida's southeast coast.

He said there were five adults and four children aboard and
that all had donned life jackets.

"The transmission basically said they were taking on water
and the vessel was sinking, and then that the vessel had sunk,"
O'Neil said.

The boat operator continued speaking on a hand-held radio
and said the passengers were huddled together in a group as
instructed by the Coast Guard, and that his wife had broken her
leg and was bleeding heavily.

Communications were lost a few minutes before midnight,
O'Neil said. Rescue boats and planes were still searching the
area on Monday.

"We've not found a debris field, we haven't found any sign
of the vessel, we have not found the individuals," O'Neil said.

Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the Gulf Coast of Florida
on Sunday, threatening to dump heavy rain on much of the state.
Forecasters said Alberto could strengthen into a hurricane as
it moved ashore near the Tampa-St. Petersburg area on Tuesday.
It was expected to cross northeast over the state and move into
the Atlantic Ocean.