SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard returned 17 Cuban migrants to the Dominican Republic Friday evening following an interdiction in the Mona Passage by Caribbean Border Interagency Group law enforcement authorities Thursday morning.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico will be filing a criminal complaint against two Dominican Republic nationals also interdicted in the group, who are facing potential criminal prosecution for migrant smuggling and attempted illegal entry into the United States.
The migrants were traveling to Puerto Rico aboard a grossly overloaded 20-foot makeshift boat that was detected early Thursday morning by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier, approximately eight nautical miles west of Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
The Joseph Napier launched the cutter’s Over the Horizon IV small boat that came alongside and interdicted the migrant vessel that was carrying 19 people onboard, two Dominican men and 17 Cuban nationals; 13 males and 4 females, including two minors. The migrants were provided with lifejackets and embarked aboard the Joseph Napier, where they were provided with food, water and shelter.
The migrants were transferred from the Joseph Napier to the Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez, which transferred custody of the two Dominicans to Ramey Sector Border Patrol Agents in Añasco, Puerto Rico Friday afternoon. The Heriberto Hernandez transported the remaining migrants to Dominican Republic waters, where they were transferred at-sea to Dominican Republic Navy authorities just off La Romana.
“The crew of the Joseph Napier did an outstanding job in detecting and interdicting this makeshift vessel before it could make landfall on Mona Island,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Douglas, Sector San Juan chief of enforcement. “This vessel could have capsized at any given moment. The men, women and children onboard were very fortunate to have survived this perilous voyage.”
The Caribbean Border Interagency Group was formally created to unify efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney‘s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA, for its Spanish acronym), in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.
The Joseph Napier and Heriberto Hernandez are 154-foot fast response cutters homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.