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PRI | May 14, 2022

11 dead as migrant boat capsizes off Puerto Rico

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

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TCI authorities also intercepted 129 migrants on ‘sinking boat’ the same day

Rescue craft arrive on scene after a migrant vessel capsized north of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico May 12, 2022 in a still image from surveillance aircraft video. (Photo: United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS)

The United States Coast Guard says while search and rescue operations continue on Saturday (May 14), 48 hours after an illegal boat filled with migrants capsized near Puerto Rico, it is unlikely more survivors will be found alive.

Authorities indicated that 11 people drowned when the vessel they were travelling in toppled in the Mona Passage, approximately 10 nautical miles north of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico.

Quick action saved the lives of 38 survivors, 36 Haitian and two Dominican Republic nationals, eight of which remain hospitalised. The nationalities of the 11 recovered bodies are yet to be determined, the US Coast Guard added.

Arguably among the most notoriously dangerous migration routes in the world, the Mona Passage is a strait connecting the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

According to the Coast Guard, watchstanders in its San Juan sector received an alert around 11:47 am on May 12, reporting that the aircrew of a US Custom and Border Protection (CBP) aircraft had sighted a capsized vessel with people who did not appear to be wearing life jackets.

“Coast Guard watchstanders directed the launch of an MH-60T helicopter from Air Station Borinquen and diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos to rescue possible survivors. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action marine units also responded,” the Coast Guard disclosed.

A US Coast Guard helicopter arrives on scene after a migrant vessel capsized north of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico May 12, 2022 in a still image from surveillance aircraft video. (United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS)
Rescue craft arrive on scene after a migrant vessel capsized north of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico May 12, 2022 in a still image from surveillance aircraft video. (Photo: United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS)

The surviving migrants were taken to Puerto Rico, said Jeffrey Quinones, public affairs officer for the CBP in Puerto and the US Virgin Islands.

It is the second such incident of May 12, Our Today has discovered, as officials in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) rescued a vessel in distress just hours before.

The Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force (RTCIPF), in a statement, advised that 129 migrants, intercepted roughly 11 kilometres south of Providenciales, are currently being processed by the TCI Immigration Department.

No official disclosure on the migrants’ nationalities was made, though it is presumed that they are mostly Haitians.

“At about 12:09 am on Thursday [May 12], the Coastal Radar Station detected a suspicious vessel aorund 6.7 miles south of Providenciales and started to track it. Immediately, the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force Marine Branch made their way to the location and safely intercepted a vessel carrying irregular migrants,” the TCI police force said.

A migrant boat is safely docked in the Turks and Caicos Islands after marine police intercepted the compromised vessel around midnight on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Photo: Facebook @RTCIPF)

“Following the stabilisation of the boat, [which] was unsafe, taking on water and ensuring that the migrants were safe, the RTCIPF marine unit towed the boat to South Dock, where its 129 passengers—100 males and 29 females—were safely unloaded. They were taken into custody by the Immigration Department,” the force added.

Migrants, particularly from Haiti, have in recent months been attempting to escape gang violence and poverty through dangerous voyages on unseaworthy vessels.

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