Coast Guard Rescuing Migrants off Puerto Rico After 11 Die in Capsizing

U.S. Coast Guard rescue crews are scouring waters off the coast of Puerto Rico after a boat apparently carrying migrants capsized, killing 11 passengers.

The capsized boat was spotted midday Thursday near a deserted island. Authorities say they were able to rescue 31 migrants from the water and are searching for any other survivors. Despite the perilous journey, migrants continue to risk their lives in hopes of arriving in the U.S.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) patrol aircraft spotted the vessel around noon about 10 miles north of Desecheo Island off Puerto Rico's west coast, agency spokesman Jeffrey Quiñones told Newsweek in an email.

The capsized vessel was described by the CBP as a "yola," a wooden boat used to transport migrants and contraband. The patrol aircraft's crew spotted over 20 people in the water and requested help from the CBP, as well as the Puerto Rico Police Marine Unit and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Quiñones. People spotted in the water did not appear to be wearing life jackets, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Helicopter and Cutter
U.S. Coast Guard rescue crews search for survivors after a boat apparently full of migrants capsized off the coast of Puerto Rico, killing 11 passengers. Above, a helicopter takes off from a Coast Guard cutter one week after 2017's Hurricane Maria in San Juan. Ricardo ARDUENGO/Getty Images

The agencies transported the migrants to Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla in Puerto Rico, where they are receiving emergency medical assistance, said Quiñones. Eight Haitian nationals are receiving treatment at the El Buen Samaritano hospital in Aguadilla, he said.

"Search efforts are fully underway," U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad told Newsweek.

He said the Coast Guard has dispatched a C-130 aircraft from its base in Clearwater, Florida, that he said can search a larger area and stay in the air longer. Additionally, the Coast Guard's Cutter Joseph Tezanos, a fast-response vessel, is on the scene as well as helicopters, Castrodad said.

Human Rights Watch released a report in March describing the chaotic conditions facing Haitian migrants, many fleeing violence and poverty, upon deportation. The watchdog group said 25,765 people were expelled or deported to Haiti from January 1, 2021, to February 26, 2022. Of those, the U.S. returned 79 percent, or 20,309 people.

Migrants face dangerous conditions. In January, over 100 migrants were rescued off the coast of Florida.

Border authorities have continued to block their arrival into the U.S. In March, roughly 150 Haitian migrants landed ashore on private beach about 20 miles west from Key West.

Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar said on Twitter on Monday that U.S. Border Patrol Agents have responded to 104 maritime smuggling incidents that made landfall in Florida, since October 1. Over the weekend, he said Border Patrol agents and local authorities apprehended 58 Cuban migrants and responded to six smuggling incidents.