Two suspected smugglers detained after deadly migrant interdiction

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Two suspected smugglers are in custody after the Coast Guard rescued 19 Haitian migrants from the waters off Dominican Republic after a smuggling vessel capsized and left one migrant dead.

On Sunday, a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter detected a suspected smuggling vessel transiting to Puerto Rico, 27 nautical miles west of Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Key Largo to interdict the vessel and a Customs and Border Protection aircraft launched to assist.

The suspected smugglers changed course towards the Dominican Republic after the Coast Guard detected the illicit smuggling venture. In a desperate attempt to avoid law enforcement authorities, the suspected smugglers allegedly forced migrants overboard from an already unseaworthy vessel and caused the vessel to capsize.

The crew of the Key Largo recovered 22 people from the water including eight Haitian women, 11 Haitian men, two Dominican Republic nationals and a deceased Haitian man.

“I implore all those thinking about taking to the sea and placing their lives into the hands of ruthless and cowardly smugglers to not put their lives at risk,” said Capt. Drew Pearson, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander. “The smugglers don’t care about you and they will leave you to the perils of the sea if it means saving their own skin. In this case we saved 21 lives, including the lives of the suspected smugglers who placed all in danger, one Haitian man suffered a more tragic fate and lost his life; our most heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends on their loss of their loved one.”

The Coast Guard provided the migrants food, water, shelter, and basic medical attention aboard the cutter. On Tuesday, the Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus returned the Haitian migrants to La Romana, Dominican Republic.

The Key Largo transferred the suspected smugglers to U.S. federal law enforcement agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations in Puerto Rico.

The Coast Guard Cutters Matinicus and Key Largo are 110-foot patrol boats homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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