Deadly pirogue trip to Trinidad…

In this Jan. 2019, photo provided by Luisa Garcia, mother of Yubreilys Merchán, shows Merchan in Güiria, Venezuela. Merchán, a 23-year-old hairdresser, survived when the wooden boat carrying her and other Venezuelans, mostly women, sank on its way to Trinidad early Wednesday, April 24, near the Venezuelan island of Patos, 5 miles from a peninsula in the Venezuelan state of Sucre.
Carmen Garcia via Associated Press

Hope is fading for 22 Venezuelan migrants, who are feared drowned when the fishing boat, which was heading to Trinidad from the Venezuelan coast of Guiria, overturned and sank near Patos Island, near the Dragon’s Mouth last Tuesday night.

Of the 34 on board the overcrowded boat, 12 have been rescued while the search is continuing for the remaining 22, most of them were said to be women fleeing from the economic and political crisis in their homeland.

The captain, Francisco Martinez and passenger Yusmari were the first to be rescued. Venezuelan officials said the boat, named B/P Johnnaly Jose, encountered engine problems 10 minutes into the journey and capsized in the choppy waters off Patos Island, located about three miles from the South American mainland.

The tragedy happened at night on a popular route for refugees and illegal migrants who pay traffickers to reach Trinidad.

The boats sailed under the cover of darkness, docking in quiet coves and bays along Trinidad’s Gulf of Paria.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard reported that a total of nine people were rescued on a beach near the Venezuelan mainland. It said 16 people were still missing in accordance with the approved crew and passenger list.

However, an additional seven people are reported missing who boarded the vessel but were however not on the approved crew and passenger list.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard said it is continuing its support of the Venezuelan Coast Guard in the conduct of this search and rescue operation near the site known as “the mouths” between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.

The ill-fated vessel is reported to have undertaken a three-hour trip to a beach near the Chaguaramas in the west of Trinidad.

Over the past three years, Venezuelans have been fleeing their homeland due to a deepening political and economic crisis.

Passenger ferries travel between the two countries weekly, but many Venezuelans are forced to cross illegally on fishing boats because they don’t have passports to enter through official ports.

Over the past weeks there have been an influx of illegal Venezuelans coming to Trinidad and Tobago by boats since the Trinidad and Tobago government announced on April 11, a two-week registration process of legal and illegal Venezuelans living in Trinidad and Tobago, beginning on May 31 and ending on June 14.

They would be allowed to work and live legally in the country for one year.

The illegal migrants were trying to beat the deadline so they could be in the country to be registered.

The United Nation records as of May 2018 that there was an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans living in Trinidad and Tobago.

National Security Minister, Stuart Young said there was no way to determine the number of refugees in the country and the registration would assist in getting the necessary statistics.

In a statement, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the incident shows that “if there are no legal routes, there will be more people using more dangerous routes.”

UNHCR said this is not the first incident of Venezuelan refugees getting into difficulty at seas.

In January last year, another boatload of Venezuelans trying to reach Curacao was shipwrecked with close to 30 on board and only 16 were rescued.

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