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At least 11 dead and 31 rescued after boat capsizes near Puerto Rico

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

It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were aboard the boat when it turned over, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said. He said a “mass rescue effort” was still underway.

“We’re looking to rescue as many people as we can and find as many survivors as we can,” he said. Twenty men and 11 women have been rescued so far, he said.

At least eight Haitians were taken to the hospital. The nationalities of the others aboard 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 flee violence and poverty in their countries.

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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the capsized boat late Thursday morning.

“If not for that, we would not have known about this until someone would have found any sign or received reports from people that their loved ones are missing,” Castrodad said. “They found them early enough that we were able to coordinate a response.”

The boat was spotted more than 11 miles north of the uninhabited island of Desecheo, off Puerto Rico’s west coast.

The capsizing comes less than a week after the U.S. 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,” Castrodad said. “They’re unsafe, they are grossly overloaded ... [and there is] no lifesaving equipment. It wouldn’t really take much for any of these vessels to capsize.”

Antonio Hurtado admitted to being on drugs and passing out when he tried to smuggle 32 migrants aboard his boat last year.

April 7, 2022

From October 2021 to March, 571 Haitians and 252 Dominicans were detained in waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of those Haitians — 348 of them — landed on Puerto Rico’s uninhabited Mona Island and were rescued. Mona Island is about 35 miles southwest of Desecheo.

In fiscal year 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained, compared with the 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans in fiscal year 2020.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard said that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, it apprehended 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 Dominicans in the region, which includes Florida and the Caribbean.

Since then, trips of human smuggling boats have only increased, authorities say.

In January, the Coast Guard searched for at least 38 people missing off Florida’s coast after a suspected human smuggling boat that had left the Bahamas capsized in a storm. A sole survivor was reported.

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

Haiti’s gangs are wielding more power than ever, committing killings, kidnappings and other violence in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Oct. 22, 2021

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 also have increased, including those of eight Turkish citizens who were forced off a bus Sunday that they had boarded in the Dominican Republic.

Kidnappings in Haiti, an impoverished country of more than 11 million people, have increased 180% and homicides are up 17% in the last year, according to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern over “the rapid deterioration of security and human rights” in Haiti.

Given Haiti’s deepening turmoil, some have criticized the Biden administration for deporting more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months.

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