U.S. maritime authorities repatriated 59 migrants to the Dominican Republic on Thursday following the interception of two overloaded vessels in Mona Passage, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, earlier this week.
The first incident happened on Tuesday when an aircrew aboard a surveillance aircraft detected a suspicious vessel approximately 15 nautical miles (17.2 miles) southwest of Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
The vessel was then intercepted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Confidence who embarked 42 adult migrants, all of whom claimed to be Dominican Republican nationals.
The following day another suspect vessel was detected. This time, a Customs and Border Protection aircraft located the vessel in waters northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
The vessel was stopped by CBP officials and members of the Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action. USCGC Heriberto Hernandez arrived later and embarked the group of 17 migrants, all of whom also claimed to be Dominicans, authorities said.
On Thursday, the crew of the USCGC Cutter Heriberto Hernandez transported all 59 adults to Dominican Republic territorial waters, “where the repatriation of the migrants was completed to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel just off Puna Cana,” the Coast Guard said in a news release.
Thursday’s repatriations come just days after another interdiction of a smuggling vessel in Mona Passage.
Last Sunday, the crew of the USCGC Donald Horsley stopped a 25-foot smuggling vessel in the waters north of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico. The vessel had 34 non-citizens on board. A biometrics review revealed that five of them were found to have prior records or behaved in violation of U.S. law.
On Monday, 29 migrants were repatriated to the Dominican Republic, while the other five were taken to Ramey Station in Puerto Rico for further processing.
Three of them are now facing charges for attempting to reenter the country after a previous deportation for a conviction, CBP officials said Friday.
“Irregular migration voyages in the Mona Passage are highly dangerous and an unlawful means to enter the United States,” said Cmdr. Gerard Wenk, Sector San Juan chief of response.
“Anyone thinking of taking part in one of these voyages must understand that their life will be at risk, and when they are interdicted at sea or apprehended ashore, they will not be allowed to stay in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands,” he added.
The U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted 64 irregular voyages in the Mona Passage and waters near Puerto Rico from Oct. 1, 2022 through August 28, 2023. Of the 1,965 interdicted migrants, 1,675 are Dominicans and 264 Haitians.
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