Coast Guard rescues 55 migrants left stranded by smugglers on Monito Island, Puerto Rico

AMTV/SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Jan 19 — The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez rescued 55 migrants Thursday, who were left abandoned and stranded by smugglers on the uninhabited natural reserve of Monito Island, Puerto Rico.

The rescue involved efforts and coordination with Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG) partner agencies.

Coast Guard watch standers in San Juan, Puerto Rico received a communication from the aircrew of a Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft during a maritime patrol in the Mona Passage Monday night of a group of people stranded on the rocky cliffs of Monito Island located just off Mona Island, Puerto Rico. A Customs and Border Protection helicopter aircrew delivered food and water to Monito Island Tuesday afternoon.

Heavy sea-state conditions of six-to-eight-foot seas and the difficulty of accessing the ocean cliffs prevented rescue efforts from taking place until Thursday morning. Once sea-state and wind conditions improved, the cutter Heriberto Hernandez’s Over the Horizon boat safely approached Monito Island. The Coast Guard crew provided lifejackets to the group before each migrant took their turns jumping into the water while holding onto a heaving line that was used by the crew to recover them from the water.

“The dangers of illegal voyages in the Mona Passage are exponentially increased when smugglers leave their passengers abandoned for days in austere and dangerous environments like Monito Island,” said Capt. José E. Díaz, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander. “Most do not realize the danger they are in until it is too late, as these voyages often take place aboard makeshift and grossly overloaded vessels with no lifesaving equipment. If you are thinking of taking part in an illegal voyage across the Mona Passage, do not take to the sea! It may save your life or the life of your loved ones!”

The survivors consist of 54 men and nine women claiming Haitian nationality, and one man who claimed to be a Cuban national. All 55 migrants were transferred to Ramey Sector U.S Border Patrol agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Since Oct. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022, the Coast Guard has carried out 14 illegal voyage interdictions in the Mona Passage and waters near Puerto Rico. Interdicted during this period, are 419 non-U.S. citizens including 327 Dominicans, 91 Haitians and 01 of unknown nationality.

Cutter Heriberto Hernandez is a Coast Guard 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

CBIG 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, in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.

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