The U.S. Coast Guard returned 22 people back to the Dominican Republic who were caught at sea trying to enter Puerto Rico illegally, according to the agency.
Since October, the Coast Guard and Puerto Rican law enforcement have stopped more than 400 people in the Caribbean trying to make their way to the U.S. commonwealth island and the mainland U.S., the Coast Guard announced Tuesday.
In all 25 people were on the 35-foot “makeshift” vessel that was spotted by an HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crew based at Coast Guard Air Station Miami on Saturday. The cutter Joseph Napier, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was sent to pick up the 24 men and one woman.
The boat was about 20 nautical miles northwest of Mona Island at the time, according to the Coast Guard.
The boat was overloaded, had none of the required safety equipment and was not equipped with navigational lights, said Lt. John Schulz, commanding officer of the Joseph Napier.
“Many lives are lost each year by these types of ventures, and are a direct threat to the people who attempt the voyage,” Schulz said in a statement. “Each person saved is a testament to how critical the Coast Guard and our partner agencies’ efforts are to ensure there is not unnecessary loss of life in the waters surrounding Puerto Rico.”
Three men with the group were arrested and taken to Puerto Rico to face federal charges of trying to illegally reenter the U.S. The 22 other people were taken by the Joseph Napier and delivered to a Dominican Republic Navy ship, the Coast Guard stated.
Monday’s repatriation comes two days after Bahamian officials announced the drowning deaths of at least 27 people from Haiti in the waters near the island of Abaco. Their vessel sank, possibly after striking a reef.