11 dead, 31 rescued after boat capsizes off Puerto Rico

11 dead, 31 rescued after boat capsizes off Puerto Rico

A boat loaded with suspected migrants capsized north of an uninhabited island near Puerto Rico and 11 people were confirmed dead, while 31 others were rescued Thursday, authorities said.

It wasn't immediately clear how many people were aboard the boat when it turned over, said Ricardo Castrodad, US coast guard spokesman. He said a mass rescue effort was still underway.

He said we are looking to rescue as many people as possible and find as many survivors as we can.

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

The incident was the latest in a string of capsizings across the region as migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic fled violence and poverty in their countries. A US Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the overturned boat late Thursday morning.

If not for that, we would not have known about this until someone would have found any signs or received reports from people that their loved ones were missing, Castrodad said. They found them early enough that we were able to coordinate a response. The boat was spotted more than 11 miles 18 km north of the uninhabited island of Desecheo, which is off Puerto Rico's west coast. The U.S. coast guard said those rescued were 20 men and 11 women.

The capsizing comes less than a week after the US coast guard and Dominican navy rescued 68 migrants in the Mona Passage, a treacherous area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One woman believed to be from Haiti died, Castrodad said.

These voyages are dangerous, said Castrodad. They are unsafe, they are grossly overloaded and there is no lifesaving equipment. It wouldn't take much for any of these vessels to capsize. According to US Customs and Border Protection, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in waters around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands from October 2021 to March 2022. The majority of the 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 arrested, compared with 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans apprehended in fiscal year 2020.

In the fiscal year ending September 30th, the US coast guard said 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 people from the Dominican Republic were apprehended in the region, which includes Florida and the Caribbean Sea. The trips of human smuggling boats have only increased since then, authorities say.

In January, the coast guard searched for 38 people missing off Florida s coast after a suspected human smuggling boat that had left the Bahamas capsized in a storm. A single survivor was reported.

Hundreds of Haitians have arrived in Florida alone in the past few months after swimming ashore. Haiti is struggling with a surge in gang-related violence that has killed dozens of people, including women and children, and caused thousands of families to flee their homes. Kidnappings and kidnappings have also gone up, including those of eight Turkish citizens who were forced off a bus they had boarded in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

Kidnappings in the country of more than 11 million people have increased by 180% and homicides have gone up 17% in the past year, according to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern over the rapid deterioration of 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 because of the country's deepening turmoil.