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11 dead, 31 rescued after boat capsized near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A boat loaded with suspected migrants capsized north of an uninhabited island near Puerto Rico and 11 people were confirmed dead, while 31 others were rescued on Thursday, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear how many people were on board the boat when it overturned, US Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said. He said a “mass rescue operation” was still underway.

“We want to save as many people as possible and find as many survivors as possible,” he said.

At least eight Haitians were taken to hospital, although the nationalities of everyone on board the boat were not immediately known.

The incident was the latest in a string of capsizes in the region as migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic flee violence and poverty in their countries.

A US Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the overturned boat late Thursday morning.

“Without that, we wouldn’t have known about it until someone found any signs or received reports from people that their loved ones were missing,” Castrodad said. “They found them soon enough for us to coordinate a response.”

The boat was spotted more than 18 kilometers north of the uninhabited island of Desecheo, off the west coast of Puerto Rico. According to the US Coast Guard, the rescued are 20 men and 11 women.

The capsizing comes less than a week after the US Coast Guard and Dominican Navy rescued 68 migrants in the Mona Passage, a treacherous area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, on Saturday. A woman believed to be from Haiti died, Castrodad said.

“These trips are dangerous,” Castrodad said. “They’re unsafe, they’re heavily overloaded…(and) no life-saving gear. It really wouldn’t take much for one of those ships to capsize.”

From October 2021 to March, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were arrested in waters around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to US Customs and Border Protection. The majority of these Haitians, 348 in number, landed on Puerto Rico’s uninhabited island of Mona and were rescued.

In fiscal 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were arrested, compared to 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans arrested in fiscal 2020.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard said it had detained 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 people from the Dominican Republic in the region that includes Florida and the Caribbean in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Since then, trips by people-smuggling boats have only increased, authorities say.

In January, the Coast Guard searched for at least 38 people off Florida’s coast after a suspected people-smuggling boat leaving the Bahamas capsized in a storm. A single survivor was reported.

Hundreds of Haitians have arrived in Florida alone in recent months after swimming ashore.

Haiti is grappling with a wave of gang violence that has killed dozens of people, including women and children, and forced thousands of families to flee. Kidnappings have also increased, including that of eight Turkish nationals who were forced off a bus they boarded in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

Kidnappings of more than 11 million people in the country have increased by 180% and homicides by 17%, according to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern over the “rapid deterioration in security and human rights” in Haiti.

Many have criticized US President Joe Biden’s administration for deporting more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months amid the country’s deepening turmoil.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc13.com/puerto-rico-capsized-boat-human-migration-water-rescue/11843030/ 11 dead, 31 rescued after boat capsized near Puerto Rico

Dais Johnston

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