At least 11 people were killed and 38 survivors were rescued after a makeshift boat loaded with suspected migrants capsized north of an island near Puerto Rico.
Ricardo Castrodad, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard’s San Juan Sector, told USA TODAY on Friday that a “massive rescue effort” involving multiple agencies and search helicopters continued through Friday.
Of the 38 survivors, eight remain hospitalized, he said. Thirty-six of them are Haitians, while two are citizens of the Dominican Republic, Castrodad added.
“We still hope to find additional survivors,” he said. “As search efforts drag on, it becomes more difficult and challenging, and the odds of finding someone alive will diminish over time. But our efforts right now are focused on finding possible survivors.”
Castrodad said border patrol agents are interviewing survivors to get a better estimate of how many people might have been on the boat at the time it capsized.
Initial reports on Thursday said 31 people had been rescued.
The US Coast Guard received a report shortly before noon Thursday of a US Customs and Border Protection aircraft seeing the capsized vessel more than 11 miles north of the uninhabited island of Desecheo, off to the west coast of Puerto Rico, according to a statement sent to USA TODAY. .
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The statement described the capsized ship as “suspected of being involved in an illegal voyage”.
Marine units from the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Puerto Rico Police responded to the scene.
“Thanks to the report from the customs team, we were able to coordinate a response with various agencies and rescue this number of survivors,” Castrodad said. “…If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have known these people were in trouble.”
Castrodad said the 25-foot boat is known as a “yola,” or a makeshift craft that he described as “very, very dangerous.”
“These trips, from the moment they start, it’s a shipwreck waiting to happen,” he said. “These makeshift boats are heavily overloaded, fill with water, have no life-saving equipment and face ever-changing conditions. It doesn’t take much for any of these boats to capsize.”
In addition, Castrodad said the boat capsized far from shore in an area where rapidly changing weather conditions can challenge rescuers. He said these ships are also often difficult to spot and are only found when it is too late, adding that they are the lucky crews who saw the wreck in this case.
An increasing number of migrant boats have been intercepted in recent years as migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic flee as a result of violence and poverty. In Haiti, rising gang-related violence and kidnappings have driven thousands to flee their homes.
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From October to March 2021, 571 Haitians and 252 Dominicans were apprehended in waters near Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
In fiscal year 2021, which was from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained according to data from the US Customs and Border Protection Office. Just a year earlier they were apprehended 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans.
The US Coast Guard and the Dominican Navy rescued 68 migrants in the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Saturday. In January, a lone survivor was reported in a search for 38 people after a boat suspected of human smuggling capsized off the Florida coast.
Contributing: The Associated Press