The United States Coast Guard said its Resolute cutter had been on a routine patrol in the area on Thursday afternoon when the crew spotted multiple people stranded in the water about 16 miles south of Key West. Eight people were rescued while two bodies were recovered from the water, according to the Coast Guard.
Crews are now searching for 10 possible passengers still in the water. Search efforts utilizing multiple air and surface assets began Thursday afternoon, continued Friday and would take place throughout the night, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard said Friday afternoon it had searched an area of approximately 6,552 square miles through surface and air assets.
Neovys Morales told Miami ABC affiliate WPLG that her friend's son was one of those who departed Cuba on the boat and she is unaware whether he was one of those who was rescued or is still missing.
"It isn't easy," Morales said in Spanish. "You don't know if your son has drowned or is alive. You just don't know."
The survivors told rescuers that they had left Cuba's Port of Mariel on Sunday and their boat overturned sometime on Wednesday evening, according to the Coast Guard. Cuba is about 90 miles from Key West.
Officials have not said what type of boat the people were traveling in or what had caused the vessel to capsize.
"It was a rustic boat -- what the Cubans call 'un balsa' -- a raft made of barrels," Morales told WPLG. "They were basically on top of one another -- 20 people on that raft."
As of Thursday night, the survivors remained aboard a Coast Guard cutter, where officials said they were receiving food, water and basic medical attention. Meanwhile, the two deceased passengers were taken ashore, according to the Coast Guard.
"Our responders are focused on the search for survivors," Senior Chief Seth Haynes, the Coast Guard's Key West command center supervisor, said in a statement Thursday. "We will continue to search through the night for those reported missing, and if any mariners see or hear anything, to render assistance if possible and contact the Coast Guard."
Coast Guard officials said they have seen a recent increase in rescue operations involving Cuban nationals attempting the treacherous journey to seek asylum in the United States.
On Saturday, a raft carrying 11 Cuban migrants, one of whom was dead, was found off the coast of Marathon, an island city in the Florida Keys, north of Key West. The survivors told Coast Guard officials that their vessel had capsized at the start of the voyage, causing them to lose their supplies of food, water and medication.