Eighteen people are now confirmed dead in a shipwreck over the weekend off the northeastern Dominican Republic, while rescue teams continue to search for dozens of people missing in the accident, officials said Monday.
The small boat, which was carrying more than 70 illegal immigrants bound for Puerto Rico, sank early Saturday.
Eight survivors have been accounted for, but up to 20 people may have made it ashore alive, Hato Mayor province emergency management chief Luis Armando Frias told Efe.
Some survivors may not have been reported missing by relatives who feared they might be arrested, Frias said.
The vessel’s stern began breaking up due to strong waves and the weight of the passengers, causing it to sink off the coast of the northeastern province of Samana and the eastern province of Hato Mayor, survivors said.
Navy cutters, a private plane, emergency management office personnel and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter based in Puerto Rico resumed the search and rescue operation early Monday, Frias said.
People smugglers charged between 30,000 and 40,000 pesos ($770 and $1,025) to get the Dominicans into neighboring Puerto Rico, survivors said.
The homemade boat sailed early Friday from Maria Trinidad Sanchez province, which is adjacent to Samana.
The bodies of six men and five women were recovered on Saturday from the Caribbean Sea, the navy spokesman said.
Thousands of Dominicans try to reach the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico every year, preferring to risk their lives rather than continue living in poverty in their homeland.
Many migrants drown each year on the treacherous journey across the 100-kilometer (62-mile) Mona Passage on the rickety wooden boats known as “yolas.”