Dozens of Venezuelans were missing after a boat en route to the island of Trinidad sunk in the Caribbean Sea, authorities said Thursday.
An official from the country’s civil protection agency said a team is searching for those who may have drowned after the ‘Yonaily Jose’ boat sank in rough seas on its way to the island early Wednesday.
The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
In recent years, an estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis-wracked country where a political struggle is now playing out between U.S.-backed opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó and socialist President Nicolás Maduro.
Most of Venezuela’s migrants travel by land into neighboring Colombia and Brazil, but others overload fishing boats to cross the sometimes deadly Caribbean waters and head for nearby islands.
In Jan. 2018, authorities called off a search for more than two dozen migrants who boarded a boat leaving Venezuela that crashed onto rocks on the nearby Dutch island of Curacao. Officials said two people survived that crash.
The most recent accident would be the deadliest in years, reflecting the perils that desperate Venezuelans are willing to take to escape widespread shortages of basic goods in the South American country.
The missing boat overturned in strong waves near the island of Patos, roughly 5 miles (8 kilometers) off the Venezuelan coast. Seven security force vessels were searching the waters for the missing, the official from the civil protection agency said.
Local outlet Noticiero Digital said that 35 people were aboard the ship and at least eight people had been rescued. It cited officials from the navy of Trinidad and Tobago and said the boat had left the port of Las Salinas in the Venezuelan state of Sucre on April 23.
It reported that 22 of the migrants were women and the boat’s captain, Francisco Martínez, was among those rescued.
The online news website Daily Express quoted a Venezuelan living in Trinidad who said her sister could not be located.
The 21-year-old was headed to the island to flee Venezuela because she said it lacked food and hospital care.