Venezuela says at least 20 dead in shipwreck, one person detained

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 (Hanlie Gouws, News24)
(Hanlie Gouws, News24)

At least 20 people died when a boat sank off the eastern Venezuelan coast over the weekend and the vessel's owner has been arrested, the country's chief prosecutor said on Monday.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro initially said it had found 14 bodies floating off shore from Guiria in the state of Sucre, a frequent departure point for migrants fleeing their Venezuela's economic crisis to the neighbouring island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Prosecutor Tarek Saab wrote on Twitter that 56-year-old Luis Martinez had been arrested and that the case had been assigned to prosecutors specializing in human trafficking.

"The prosecutor's office reiterates its commitment to sanction [the people] responsible for these crimes, who have organised mafias that operate between Sucre and the island of Trinidad to promote...human trafficking," Saab wrote.

At least 40 000 Venezuelans live in Trinidad and Tobago, many of whom arrived in small rickety boats overloaded beyond capacity, with limited supplies of fuel and food.

Last year, at least two ships that set off from Venezuela en route to the Caribbean nation disappeared at sea.

Venezuela's economic meltdown has spurred a mass migration of some 5 million people seeking to escape the South American country's hyper-inflationary collapse.

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