11 die after boat capsizes near Puerto Rico, USA

11 die after boat capsizes near Puerto Rico, USA

Eleven people died and 31 others were rescued Thursday after a boat carrying migrants capsized about 10 miles north of Desecheo Island, PR, the US Coast Guard said.

The crew of a customs and border protection aircraft sighted a capsized ship shortly before noon, the authority said. The crew reported people in the water who appeared not to be wearing life jackets, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said the ship was “suspected of participating in an illegal voyage”.

Most of the people on the boat were from Haiti, but two of the survivors were from the Dominican Republic, said Jeffrey Quiñones, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The boat is from the Dominican Republic and is en route to the west side of Puerto Rico, he said.

Mr Quiñones said, based on reports from the migrants, the boat was taking on water and the occupants were trying to scoop water out of the boat. He said this is not uncommon on such voyages as the boats are often “unseaworthy”.

“It seems the boat broke down because it’s not a boat made for such a voyage,” Mr Quiñones said. “Of course, with a lot of people in the boat, that could happen.”

A Coast Guard spokesman said Thursday evening that the agency was still searching for survivors and did not know how many people were on the boat.

A lack of opportunities in developing countries, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and rising prices that have led to food insecurity have prompted more and more people to apply for entry into the United States.

More than 3,200 migrants have been detained while attempting to enter the United States by sea in fiscal year 2021. Most of these apprehensions took place in California, but that Florida authorities arrested 1,316 Cubans, Haitians and Dominicans, nearly as many as in the previous two fiscal years combined.

The data underestimates the actual number of people seeking entry by sea as it only represents events where people are arrested or a ship is recovered.

Many of the migrants come from Haiti. They take treacherous paths to escape a country plagued by gang violence, political instability and widespread poverty. They arrive on the west coast of Puerto Rico with some frequency, often on makeshift wooden boats known locally as “yolas”.

When federal authorities have detained large groups of migrants or detained their smugglers, they have repeatedly stressed the dangers of crossing the treacherous Mona Passage or unsafe landings, either in western Puerto Rico or on three small islands in the passage: Mona, Monito and Desecheo.

In October, US border patrol arrested four Dominicans and accused them of transporting 43 Haitians to Mona Island.

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.

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