06 February 2012

17 asylum seekers bound for the US drown as boat capsizes

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Rescue efforts off the coast of the Dominican Republican have recovered 17 bodies and 13 survivors after a boat holding 70 American bound illegal immigrants capsized on Saturday.

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Lure of life in the US tempts many people to risk their lives, often with disastrous consequencse.

The suspected captain of the boat has been held by Dominican authorities while rescue efforts continue to become ever more desperate; so far 12 men and five women have been found dead off the coast of Sabina Del Mar.

The rescuers' hopes of finding anyone else alive dwindle as time passes with Dominican Navy Intelligence Director Luis Castro saying that, with the intense heat of the Caribbean sun, "it is difficult for anyone to survive two days swimming."

The survivors of the accident said many on board fell into the water when the boat, known as a 'yola', capsized on Saturday morning.

One of the survivors claimed he swam for six hours to reach land while 10 women, including one pregnant woman, drowned.

US immigration authorities have been assisting with the rescue efforts of the illegal immigrants, most of who are believed to have been Dominicans although authorities said they suspected some could have been Haitian or Cuban.

It is believed the boat was attempting to reach the American territory of Puerto Rico which has become an increasingly popular destination for Dominican migrants.

Another survivor, Arismendy Manzutea, explained that they were trying to reach Puerto Rico without a US visa as the economic prospects were so much better than in the Dominican Republic. It is the hope for a better life, he explained, which is why so many are willing to risk their lives on overcrowded boats.

Mr Manzueta's wife Maria Sobeida Guzman, who also survived the journey, explained that she had paid over $1,000 (£634) to people smugglers for the trip; she said her cousin had promised her a job giving manicures when she arrived in Puerto Rico.

Thousands of people from Caribbean nations attempt to make the perilous journey to the US and, as many of the boats are ill-equipped and overcrowded for the 160 mile journey, deaths are common.

It is unknown how many people survived the journey; head of Santo Domingo's fire service, Jeffrey Pimentel said "tomorrow the sea will start to return the bodies."

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