At least 38 people have been rescued and 11 bodies found while U.S. Coast Guard on Friday scanned open waters northwest of Puerto Rico by boat, plane and helicopter in an attempt to find more survivors after a boat with alleged migrants capsized.
The group was first spotted Thursday morning by a U.S. Customs and Border Guard helicopter, and authorities warned it would otherwise be too late to rescue anyone. Rescue efforts were concentrated in an area more than 11 miles north of the uninhabited island of Desechoa, located west of Puerto Rico.
“We are always looking for opportunities to find survivors,” said Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castradad, adding that the crews worked all night.
It was not immediately clear how many people were in the boat. Of the 38 survivors, 36 were Haitians and two from the Dominican Republic, he said. At least eight Haitians were hospitalized, although the nationalities of all those on board were not known.
“Our hopes and prayers are with the survivors and the missing,” said Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson. “Our top priority is saving lives, and that’s what my crews are exhausting themselves.”
All 11 victims were women, according to the Puerto Rican Institute of Forensics, which announced on Friday that it had formed a special group to conduct autopsies of the bodies found. Maria Conte Miller, executive director of the institute, said her agency is in talks with Dominican consular officials to identify the family members of those killed.
Authorities in recent months have seen a sharp increase in the number of migrants, especially from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who commit what they describe as a dangerous voyage aboard wobbly ships that often capsize or land people on uninhabited islands. This is one of the cheapest ways for migrants to escape poverty and violence, especially in Haiti, where a surge in inflation, kidnappings and brutal gangster violence have forced people to take risks and board boats in search of a better life elsewhere.
From October 2021 to March, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in the waters around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to the US Customs and Border Service. Most Haitians, 348 of them, landed on the uninhabited island of Mona in Puerto Rico and were rescued.
In fiscal year 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained compared to 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans detained in fiscal year 2020.
NBC 6 was invited to observe a patrol that took off on Wednesday from the U.S. Coast Guard airfield in Opa Loka. It was not long before the crew noticed a ship filled with migrants. This was reported by Christian Benavides of NBC 6
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard said in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, it detained 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 people from the Dominican Republic in a region that includes Florida and the Caribbean.
In January, the Coast Guard searched for at least 38 people who went missing off the coast of Florida after a boat suspected of smuggling people that left the Bahamas capsized in a storm. One reportedly survived.
Recent incidents include 68 migrants rescued Saturday in the Mona Pass, an insidious area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One woman is believed to have died from Haiti. Meanwhile, on May 7, customs and border guards detained 60 Haitian migrants who, according to the agency, were smuggled through southwestern Puerto Rico. On May 4, another 59 Haitian migrants were detained in northwestern Puerto Rico. In late March, officials said they had detained more than 120 migrants in three separate incidents involving sea smuggling.
The increase in the number of Haitians fleeing their country is due to the fact that the gangs are becoming more powerful and are fighting for control of more territory amid a political vacuum after the assassination of President Javenel Muiz on July 7. The administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry has promised to crack down on gangs with the help of the international community, given that Haiti’s National Police is understaffed and understaffed.
The country has also suffered from double-digit inflation, severe gas shortages and violence by gangs that have closed hundreds of schools and businesses and forced some hospitals and clinics to close temporarily. In addition, the administration of US President Joe Biden has deported more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months amid harsh criticism given the country’s decline.