Puerto Rico: Makeshift boat with Dominican migrants capsizes

January 28, 2022 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Federal authorities detained 17 Dominican migrants on Friday after their boat capsized near Puerto Rico’s northwest coast in the pre-dawn hours, with the U.S. Coast Guard searching for an estimated 10 others still missing.

Jeffrey Quiñones, a Customs and Border Patrol spokesman, told The Associated Press that those detained told officials that a total of 27 people were aboard the boat that struck a rock and turned over near Shacks Beach in Isabela.

“There are no indications that they have drowned,” he said of those still missing.

The boat, known as a yola, overturned about 75 yards (69 meters) from shore, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad told the AP. He said authorities received a 911 call from somebody who heard the migrants splashing and running.

No migrants were rescued at sea, although he said the Coast Guard searched for several hours.

The incident comes a day after the Coast Guard suspended a search for an estimated 34 migrants who went missing in waters off Florida, with five bodies found. They were aboard a boat that left Bimini, a chain of islands in the Bahamas that lies just east of Miami.

Only one lone survivor, a Colombian, was found clinging to their boat off Fort Pierce, Florida. He said he and 39 others had departed Bimini for Florida. Authorities have not released their nationalities.

Separately, a Coast Guard cutter repatriated 94 Dominicans to the Dominican Republic on Thursday, following the interdiction of two other smuggling vessels near Puerto Rico.

Migrants from the Dominican Republic and Haiti have increasingly tried to cross the treacherous 92 miles (148 kilometers) of water known as the Mona Passage that separates the island of Hispaniola that both countries share from Puerto Rico. It has long been used as a smuggling route, with many migrants drowning or dropped off at craggy, uninhabited islands near the U.S. territory who have to be rescued.

Some 449 Haitians and more than 200 Dominicans have been detained since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, Quiñones said. Other migrants detained so far this fiscal year include 38 Venezuelans and 19 Cubans, and a handful of migrants from Brazil, Romania and the Dutch Caribbean territory of Sint Maarten.

From Jan 26-28 alone, authorities said they responded to five alleged smuggling events near western Puerto Rico, detaining 164 migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

A total of 716 migrants have been detained by the Border Patrol sector in northwest Puerto Rico since Oct. 1, compared with more than 600 detained for the entire fiscal year 2021 and 356 for the previous year.