It was not immediately clear how many people were on board the boat when it capsized, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castradad. He said “mass rescue operations” are still ongoing.
“We are trying to save as many people as possible and find as many survivors,” he said.
At least eight Haitians were taken to hospital, although the nationalities of all those aboard the boat were not known.
The incident was the latest in a series of overturns across the region, with migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic fleeing violence and poverty in their countries.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the capsized boat late Thursday morning.
“If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t know about it until someone found a sign or received reports from people that their loved ones were missing,” Castradad said. “They found them early enough so we could coordinate the response.”
The boat was spotted more than 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of the uninhabited island of Desechea, located off the west coast of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Coast Guard said 20 men and 11 women were rescued.
The overturning came less than a week after the U.S. Coast Guard and the Dominican Navy on Saturday rescued 68 migrants in the Mona Pass, an insidious area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One woman believed to be from Haiti has died, Castradad said.
“These hikes are dangerous,” Castradad said. “They are dangerous, they are heavily overloaded … (and) there is no life-saving equipment. It doesn’t really take much for any of these ships to capsize.”
From October 2021 to March, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in the waters around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to the US Customs and Border Service. Most Haitians, 348 of them, landed on the uninhabited island of Mona in Puerto Rico and were rescued.
In fiscal year 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained compared to 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans detained in fiscal year 2020.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard said in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, it detained 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 people from the Dominican Republic in a region that includes Florida and the Caribbean.
Since then, boat trips smuggling people have only increased, authorities say.
In January, the Coast Guard searched for at least 38 people who went missing off the coast of Florida after a boat suspected of smuggling people that left the Bahamas capsized in a storm. One reportedly survived.
Hundreds of Haitians have arrived in Florida in recent months alone after sailing ashore.
Haiti is battling an outbreak of gang-related violence that has killed dozens of people, including women and children, and forced thousands of families to flee their homes. Kidnappings have also increased, including eight Turkish citizens who were kicked off a bus they boarded in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.
According to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern over the “rapid deterioration of security and human rights” in Haiti, the number of abductions in the country of more than 11 million people increased by 180% and the number of murders – by 17%.
Many have criticized the administration of US President Joe Biden for deporting more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months amid escalating unrest in the country.
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