Friday, December 3, 2004

Capsizing boat kills illegal migrants

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A boat carrying at least 90 illegal migrants capsized off Puerto Rico on Friday, killing at least seven people, a U.S. Coast Guard official said.

Coast guard officials rescued 83 people and found seven bodies after the 40-foot (12-meter) boat capsized Friday morning off northern Puerto Rico, said Lt. Eric Willis, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Authorities were still searching for one other migrant who might have been on board, Willis said. The migrants were believed to be Dominican nationals, he said.

After a Coast Guard jet saw the boat capsize, two cutters and helicopters from the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection rushed to the scene, Willis said.

Willis said a Puerto Rican police boat had turned back the migrants about three hours before the capsize. The boat overturned after trying to make another attempt to reach Puerto Rico, he said.

The number of migrants trying to reach the U.S. Caribbean territory has surged over the last two years, with most coming from the Dominican Republic. Dozens have died trying to make the perilous journey.

Last month, at least 12 Dominicans died and six were missing and presumed dead after their boat overturned. In fiscal year 2004, which ended October 1, at least 110 migrants died trying to reach Puerto Rico.

Since October 1, U.S. authorities have intercepted 639 migrants trying to enter Puerto Rico, while another 337 have been detained on shore, Willis said.

In fiscal year 2004, authorities detained 8,404 illegal migrants, compared to 3,800 in 2003.

The Dominican economy has seen a severe crisis in the past year, though it has shown signs of improvement recently, including a strengthening currency.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.