SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard repatriated 43 Haitian migrants Wednesday from two separate interdictions in the Mona Passage, including a pair of migrants who had to be rescued after they were forced into the water by smugglers attempting to avoid interdiction at sea.
The Coast Guard Cutter Confidence repatriated the migrants to Haiti Wednesday.
On Friday a group of 19 migrants was detected by a Coast Guard aircraft west of Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Key Largo to interdict the migrant vessel and informed federal law enforcement partner agencies.
Upon the cutter Key Largo’s arrival on scene, the smugglers, in an attempt to flee the area and avoid interdiction, allegedly threatened the migrants onboard and forced two Haitians, including a minor, overboard without life jackets. The crew of the Key Largo rescued the two Haitians and continued to pursue the suspect vessel.
During the pursuit, a patrolling U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine Operations aircraft was able to maintain surveillance of the fleeing vessel until it was relieved by a Coast Guard HC-144 Maritime Patrol aircraft deployed to Puerto Rico from Coast Guard Air Station Miami.
The suspected smugglers were later apprehended by Dominican Republic law enforcement authorities.
“This incident demonstrates just how ruthless smugglers are. They have no regard for human life and are only seeking to profit from this illicit activity,” said Lt. Daniel E. Stepler, Coast Guard Cutter Key Largo commanding officer.
The other 24 Haitian migrants were interdicted four days earlier by Coast Guard Cutter Drummond approximately 13 miles west of Mona Island. Two suspected smugglers were apprehended and turned over to law enforcement authorities in Puerto Rico for further investigation.