11 Dies after boat capsizes near Puerto Rico, US says

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

The agency said the crew of a Customs and Border Protection plane spotted a capsized vessel shortly before noon. The crew reported people in the water who did not appear to be wearing life jackets, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said the vessel was “suspected of having participated in an illegal voyage”.

Most of those on board were from Haiti, but two of the survivors were from the Dominican Republic, said Jeffrey Quiñones, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The boat came from the Dominican Republic and was en route west of Puerto Rico, he said.

Mr. Quiñones said that according to the accounts of the migrants, the boat was taking on water and the occupants were trying to shovel the water from the boat. He said it was not uncommon for such trips as the boats are often “unseaworthy”.

“It seems that the boat broke because it is not a boat made for such a trip,” Mr Quiñones said. “With a lot of people inside the boat, of course that could happen.”

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

The lack of opportunity in developing countries, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and rising prices that have caused food insecurity, has driven increasing numbers of people to seek entry into the United States.

More than 3,200 migrants were apprehended attempting to reach the United States by sea in fiscal year 2021. Most of these arrests were in California, but the Florida authorities detained 1,316 Cubans, Haitians, and Dominicans, nearly as many as the previous two fiscal years combined.

The data underestimates the actual number of people seeking entry by sea because it only represents events in which people are detained or a vessel is recovered.

Many migrants come from Haiti. They take dangerous routes 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 on that island as “yolas”.

When federal authorities apprehended large groups of migrants or arrested their smugglers, they repeatedly pointed out the dangers of crossing the dangerous Mona Passage or making dangerous landings, either in western Puerto Rico or on three small islands in the passage: Mona, Monito and Desecheo.

In October, the US Border Patrol arrested four Dominican men and charged them with transporting 43 Haitians to Mona Island.

Patricia Mazzei contributed report.

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