At least 11 people have died and 38 survivors have been rescued after a temporary boat carrying suspected migrants capsized north of an island near Puerto Rico.
Ricardo Castrodad, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard’s San Juan area, told USA TODAY on Friday that the “mass rescue effort” involving multiple agencies and search helicopters continued into Friday.
Of the 38 survivors, eight are still hospitalized, he said. Thirty-six of them are Haitian while two are of Dominican Republic nationality, Castrodad added.
“We still hope to find more survivors,” he said. “As search efforts drag on, it becomes more difficult and challenging, and the odds of finding someone alive decrease over time. But our efforts are currently focused on finding any survivors.” no one can survive.”
Castrodad said border patrol agents were interviewing survivors to get a better estimate of how many people might have been on board at the time it capsized.
Initial reports on Thursday said 31 people had been rescued.
The U.S. Coast Guard received a report just before noon Thursday from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection plane that had spotted the capsized boat more than a few miles from the deserted island of Desecheo, off the west coast of Puerto Rico. 11 miles to the north, according to a statement sent to USA TODAY. .
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The statement describes the capsized ship as “suspected of engaging in an illegal voyage.”
Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and Puerto Rico Coast Guard units responded to the scene.
“Thanks to the report from the customs team, we were able to coordinate the response with multiple agencies and rescue these survivors,” Castrodad said. “…If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t know these people were in trouble.”
Castrodad said the 25-foot boat was called a “yola,” or a makeshift vessel he described as “very, very dangerous.”
“These trips, from the moment they begin, are a flip-flop waiting to happen,” he said. “These makeshift ships are heavily overcrowded, water intensive, have no life-saving equipment, and face ever-changing conditions. Any of these ships potentially capsizing won’t lose much. time.”
In addition, Castrodad said the ship capsized far from shore in an area where rapidly changing weather conditions could be challenging for rescuers. He said these boats are also often difficult to detect and are only found when it is too late, adding that they are the lucky crew members who discovered the capsized in this case.
An increasing number of migrant boats have been blocked in recent years as migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic flee due to violence and poverty. In Haiti, increasing gang-related violence and kidnappings have resulted in thousands of people fleeing their homes.
Between October and March 2021, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in waters near Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
During fiscal year 2021, from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, 310 Haitian and 354 Dominican were arrested according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Just a year ago, 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans were arrested.
The US Coast Guard and the Dominican navy on Saturday rescued 68 migrants in the Mona Road between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In January, a lone survivor was reported in a search for 38 people after a boat suspected of smuggling capsized off the Florida coast.
Contribution: Associated Press