Rescuers search for 21 Venezuelans after boat capsizes

April 25, 2019 - 3:11 pm

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Rescuers launched a search for 21 missing Venezuelans on Thursday, after a boat sank in rough waters of the Caribbean Sea en route to the island of Trinidad, authorities said.

The small craft left Venezuela a day earlier and overturned in the sea a short distance from land, Lt. Kerron Valere of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard said in a statement.

Valere said that Venezuela is leading the search within that nation's waters and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard is assisting "to ensure an effective search and rescue operation." Four people have been saved.

Venezuelan officials did not immediately make public comments about the accident.

Officials initially reported that 35 passengers were aboard, but Valere put the number at 25.

In recent years, an estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis-wracked country where a political struggle is now playing out between U.S.-backed opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó and socialist President Nicolás Maduro.

Most of Venezuela's migrants travel by land into neighboring Colombia and Brazil, but others overload fishing boats to cross the sometimes deadly Caribbean waters and head for nearby islands.

In Jan. 2018, authorities called off a search for more than two dozen migrants who boarded a boat leaving Venezuela that crashed onto rocks on the nearby Dutch island of Curacao. Officials said two people survived that crash.

The most recent accident would be the deadliest in years, reflecting the perils that desperate Venezuelans are willing to take to escape widespread shortages of basic goods in the South American country.

The missing boat overturned in strong waves near the island of Patos, roughly 5 miles (8 kilometers) off the Venezuelan coast. Seven security force vessels were searching the waters for the missing, an official from the civil protection agency said.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The online news website Daily Express quoted a Venezuelan living in Trinidad who said her sister could not be located.

The 21-year-old was headed to the island to flee Venezuela because she said it lacked food and hospital care.

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