At least 11 dead and 31 rescued after boat capsized off Puerto Rico

A boat loaded with passengers capsized north of an uninhabited island near Puerto Rico. Eleven people were confirmed dead, while another 31 were rescued on Thursday, officials said.

It was not immediately clear how many people were aboard the boat when it capsized, US Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said. He said a “massive rescue effort” was still underway.

“We’re looking to rescue as many people as we can and find as many survivors as possible,” he said.

At least eight Haitians were taken to hospital, although the nationalities of everyone on board the boat are not immediately known.

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

“If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t know this until someone finds any signs or receives reports from people that their loved ones are missing,” Castrodad said. “They found them early enough that we could coordinate a response.”

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

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

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

“These trips are dangerous,” Castrodad said. “They’re unsafe, they’re heavily overloaded… (and) there’s no lifesaving equipment. It wouldn’t take long for any of these ships to capsize.”

In the fiscal year ending September 30, the Coast Guard said it arrested 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 Dominican Republic people in the region, which includes Florida and the Caribbean.

Since then, human smuggling boat trips have only increased, officials say. In January, the Coast Guard searched for at least 38 missing people off the coast of Florida 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 recent months after swimming on land.

Haiti is facing a wave of gang-related violence that has killed dozens of people, including women and children, and caused thousands of families to flee their homes. Kidnappings have also increased, including those of eight Turkish nationals who on Sunday were forced off a bus they boarded in the Dominican Republic.

Abductions in the country of more than 11 million people have increased by 180% and homicides by 17% in the past year, according to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern about “the rapid deterioration of security and human rights” in the Haiti.

Many have criticized the administration of US President Joe Biden for deporting more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months due to growing turmoil in the country.

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