At least 11 killed, 31 rescued after boat capsizes near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico ( Associated Press) — A boat carrying passengers capsized north of an uninhabited island near Puerto Rico and 11 people were confirmed dead, while 31 others were rescued on Thursday, officials said.

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

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“We’re trying to save as many people as possible and looking for as many people as we can,” he said.

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

A US Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the boat capsized early Thursday morning.

“If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t know until someone got a signal or reports from people that their loved ones are missing,” Castrodad said. “They found them so quickly that we were able to coordinate a response.”

The boat was spotted more than 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of the uninhabited island of Descheo, off the west coast of Puerto Rico.

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

On Saturday, the US Coast Guard and the Dominican Navy rescued 68 migrants in the Mona Passage, a treacherous area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Castrodad said a woman from Haiti had died.

“These trips are dangerous,” said Castrodad. “They’re insecure, they’re completely overloaded… [and] No life saving equipment. It really won’t take much time for any of these ships to capsize.”

According to US Customs and Border Protection, 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. Most of them Haitians, 348 of them, landed in Puerto Rico’s uninhabited Mona Island and were rescued.

In fiscal year 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained, while in fiscal year 2020, 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans were arrested.

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

Since then, human trafficking boat trips have only increased, officials say.

In January, the Coast Guard searched for at least 38 people missing off the coast of Florida after a suspected human trafficking boat capsized the Bahamas in a tornado. The only survivor was reported.

Read more: Coast Guard suspends search for migrants in Florida after only 5 bodies found

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

Haiti is grappling with a rise in gang-related violence that has killed dozens, including women and children, and forced thousands of families to flee their homes. There has also been a rise in kidnappings, including eight Turkish nationals who were forcibly removed from a bus aboard the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

Kidnappings of more than 11 million people have risen by 180 percent and murders by 17 percent in the past year, according to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern over the “sharp decline in security and human rights” in Haiti.

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

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