38 rescued, 11 dead as US searches waters near Puerto Rico

38 rescued, 11 dead as US searches waters near Puerto Rico

38 rescued, 11 dead as US searches waters near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — At least 38 people have been rescued and 11 bodies found as the U.S. Coast Guard scoured the open waters northwest of Puerto Rico on Friday via boat, plane and helicopter in a bid to find more survivors after a boat carrying suspected illegals capsized.

The group was first spotted Thursday morning by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter, with authorities warning it likely would have been too late to rescue anyone otherwise. Rescue efforts were concentrated in an area more than 11 miles north of the uninhabited island of Desecheo, which lies west of Puerto Rico.

“We always look for the possibility of finding survivors,” said Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad, adding that crews worked through the night.

It was not immediately clear how many people were in the boat. Of the 38 survivors, 36 were Haitian and two were from the Dominican Republic, he said. At least eight Haitian nationals have been hospitalized, although the nationalities of all those aboard was not immediately known.

“Our hope and prayers are with the survivors and those still missing,” said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson. “Our highest priority is saving lives, and that is what my crews will exhaust themselves doing.”

Authorities in recent months have noted a sharp increase in illegals, especially from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, making what they describe as dangerous voyages aboard rickety ships that often capsize or drop people off in uninhabited islands.

From October 2021 to March, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The majority of those 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 detained, compared with the 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans apprehended 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 people from the Dominican Republic in the region, which includes Florida and the Caribbean.

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.