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U.S. Coast Guard ends search for survivors of 'illegal voyage' near Puerto Rico

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U.S. Coast Guard ends search for survivors of 'illegal voyage' near Puerto Rico
The U.S. Coast Guard has ended its search for survivors after a vessel with dozens of passengers capsized Thursday. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard/Facebook

May 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard has ended its search for survivors after a vessel with dozens of passengers capsized Thursday in the Mona Passage waters between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Crews rescued 38 survivors and recovered the bodies of 11 people who died, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Of the survivors, 36 are from Haiti and two are from the Dominican Republic.

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The vessel was estimated to be carrying up to 75 people. The 11 who died were Haitian women, the St. Lucia Times reported.

"Our most heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those who did not survive or remain missing. Our prayers are with them," said Capt. Gregory H. Magee, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Juan.

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It was not immediately clear how many were expected to be missing when the search was suspended or what caused the vessel to capsize.

"Unfortunately, as the threat of illegal voyages continues, we could be forced to respond to similar events in the future," Magee said.

"The dangers of these voyages are real. We see them every day. People aboard grossly overloaded makeshift boats taking on water in high seas with little or no lifesaving equipment."

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Magee said the people on such voyages are "at the mercy of ruthless smugglers" and urged people not to travel in such illegal voyages.

"Don't take to the sea! It could just save your life," he said.

The Coast Guard said crews conducted 20 air and 10 surface searches, covering over 5,194 square nautical miles, an area larger than Puerto Rico. Photos shared by the Coast Guard showed crews pulling survivors from the water.

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"The effort, coordination and teamwork displayed by all responding units has been truly humbling," said Lt. Cmdr. Caleb Peacock, an assistant operations officer with the Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen.

"It serves as a great reminder of how sacred life is and how it takes a team to accomplish the mission of saving those in distress."

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