11 Dead in Migrant Boat Sinking off Puerto Rico

mona passage rescue
Image courtesy USCG

Published May 13, 2022 12:04 AM by The Maritime Executive

A migrant vessel capsized off the coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday, killing at least 11, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Nearly three dozen more have been rescued.

At about 1200 hours Thursday, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircrew located a suspected smuggling boat at a position in the Mona Passage, about 10 nm to the north of Desecheo Island. Some of the boat's occupants were already in the water. 

U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection assets responded to the scene and pulled 31 survivors from the water, including 11 women and 20 men. The total number of people originally on board is not known, and the search for any further survivors continued into Thursday night. 

"Our hope and prayers are with the survivors and those still missing. Our highest priority is saving lives and that is what my crews will exhaust themselves doing. We are searching for survivors with all available assets," said Rear Adm. Brendan C. McPherson, commander of USCG District 7. "The sea is dangerous. These ventures are dangerous."

It was the second fatal crossing in the strait in a week. On Saturday night, a Coast Guard patrol plane spotted a suspected smuggling boat in the Mona Passage and vectored in the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier. The patrol plane's crew could see the makeshift boat's occupants bailing water as they went. The Dominican Republic Navy vessel Aldebarán was first on scene and maneuvered to bring the migrants on board, but the small boat capsized during the evolution, putting dozens of people into the water. The Napier's crew recovered the body of one woman and rescued 56 survivors from the water, and the Aldebarán rescued 12 more.

The Mona Passage crossing is among the busiest maritime migration routes into the United States. Between October and April, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted an average of roughly two attempts per week.