The US Coast Guard says the migrants drowned after being evicted from their boat by people smugglers.
At least five migrants drowned and another 66 were rescued in an incident involving a suspected people-smuggling boat near an uninhabited island west of Puerto Rico, officials in the United States have said.
The bodies were found Thursday by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Park Rangers on Mona Island, the Coast Guard said in a statement. pronunciationadding that 66 survivors, including two minors, were safely ashore.
“The smugglers basically forced the migrants to disembark. It appears that five of the migrants drowned in the process,” Jeffrey Quinones, public affairs officer for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told Reuters news agency. in a telephone interview.
#BREAK @USCG, @CBPCaribbean, @NatlParkService responded to a suspected migrant smuggling incident near Mona Island, PR. Crews rescued 66 survivors and found 5 unresponsive individuals left behind on the island by smugglers. No missing persons reports https://t.co/odWYyTVbBP
— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) July 28, 2022
US Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad told The Associated Press that the boat fled the scene and it was unclear how many people were on board at the time.
A CBP official told the Miami Herald newspaper that most of the people are Haitians.
The incident is the latest in a series of deadly journeys across the northern Caribbean with mostly Haitians fleeing their country amid a spike in gang-related murders and kidnappings. Many Haitians are on their way to the US.
Most try to enter the US by land, via the southern border with Mexico. But as of March 2020, the US has imposed it Title 42, a pandemic rule that has prevented the majority of people from seeking asylum at the border. The measure has forced many Haitians on board deportation flights to their crisis-ravaged island.
The incident came just days after authorities in the Bahamas recovered the bodies of 17 migrants and rescued 25 others after their boat capsized. A criminal investigation is underway.
In May, 11 Haitian women drowned and 38 others were rescued after their boat sank near Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, transporting a wooden boat in March 300 Haitians capsized in shallow waters near the Florida coast, and many required medical attention.
At least two Coast Guard helicopters and two patrol boats were dispatched to the scene on Thursday, according to the Miami Herald.
Mona Island, a nature reserve, is located between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and has been used over the years by smugglers who transport people between the two. Those on that route are typically Dominican or Haitian.
“Often [smugglers] leaves people on Mona Island, making them think they are in Puerto Rico,” Joel Seijo, a spokesman for Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources told Reuters.