17 dead after migrant boat capsizes

2012-02-06 11:49
Sabana De La Mar - Rescuers scouring the white-capped waters off the Dominican Republic's coast have found 17 bodies and 13 survivors from a boat overloaded with migrants that capsized almost two days ago, officials said.

The boat carrying about 70 migrants from the Dominican Republic to the US territory of Puerto Rico capsized before dawn on Saturday morning and rescuers said hopes were fading for finding more survivors as search efforts were suspended because of darkness late on Sunday.

"Tomorrow the sea will start to return the bodies," said Jeffrey Pimentel, head of firefighters at Sabana del Mar, 150km northeast of Santo Domingo, who was leading the rescue.

Luis Castro, intelligence director of the Dominican Navy, said the bodies of 12 men and five women have been found. Thirteen survivors were rescued. The suspected captain of the smuggler's boat has been detained, he said.

Castro said that rescue efforts would resume on Monday morning, but "it is difficult for anyone to survive two days swimming" under a burning sun.

Survivors said dozens of people plunged into the water when the boat, known as a "yola," capsized. Passengers grabbed at anything that might help keep them afloat.

Economic prospects

The illegal migrants apparently were all Dominicans, but authorities could not rule out that a few Cubans or Haitians might also have been on the boat.

The US Coast Guard, which had helped Dominican rescuers by sea and air since mid-Saturday, suspended its search at noon on Sunday "after Dominican authorities said they no longer needed our assistance," said Guard spokesperson Ricardo Castrodad in Puerto Rico.

Arismendy Manzueta, a 28-year-old farmer from the northern town of La Jagua who survived the journey, said the hopes of better economic prospects in the US territory of Puerto Rico made him risk his life aboard the overloaded boat.

Puerto Rico is a common destination for Dominican migrants.

"Things are very bad here. A person works and works and never has nothing," Manzueta said in a public hospital in Sabana de la Mar.

Manzueta said he did not tell his wife, who sat by his hospital bed, that he would try to sneak into the relatively wealthy Puerto Rico.

No warning

Maria Sobeida Guzman, a 28-year-old mother of three who also survived the journey, said she paid just over $1 000 for the illegal trip to Puerto Rico, where a cousin promised to get her a job giving manicures.

"What is one going to do? A person wants to improve," said an exhausted Guzman from her hospital bed.

Guzman said there was no warning when the boat overturned and began to break apart in the pre-dawn darkness. She remembered swimming for the shore with every bit of strength she had.

Another survivor, Luis Cortorreal, a 31-year-old painter who swam for six hours until he made it to land, said there were at least 10 women on the overloaded boat, including a pregnant woman he is convinced sank beneath the waves.

Survivors told the northern region's public prosecutor Fremy Reyes that the boat overturned about four hours after setting sail on Friday just before midnight.

On Sunday, taxi driver Nicolas Moreno joined several other people congregated on Sabana de la Mar's main beach hoping for word about a missing loved one. Moreno said he believes that two close friends left on the doomed smuggler's boat.

"They wanted a better life for their children," Moreno said.

Thousands of poor Dominicans try to reach Puerto Rico in open boats that are ill-suited to the treacherous journey across the 260km Mona Passage. Many Haitian and Cuban migrants also regularly risk their lives trying to cross the often-stormy passage.

Read more on:    dominican republic  |  us  |  immigrants

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.