Boat captain faces life in prison after 11 migrants from Haiti

A ‘smuggler’ who captained the wooden vessel that capsized off the coast of Puerto Rico and left 11 Haitian migrant women dead could be spending the rest of his life in prison, U.S.Customs and Border Protection announced Monday.

Fermín Montilla, 43, appeared before a federal judge in the U.S. territory island Friday and was accused of smuggling migrants.

The Dominican Republic national was in charge of navigating the 25-foot vessel that took on water and overturned 11 miles from the uninhabited Desecho Island Thursday.

A total of 38 people, including Montilla, were rescued after a CBP spotted the boat and alerted the U.S.Coast Guard.

Fermín Montilla appeared in a Puerto Rico federal court Friday and was charged with smuggling migrants. The 43-year-old Dominican Republic native captained the wooden vessel was transporting between 60 to 75 people Thursday when it took on water and overturned near Desecho Island off the coast of Puerto Rico

Fermín Montilla appeared in a Puerto Rico federal court Friday and was charged with smuggling migrants.The 43-year-old Dominican Republic native captained the wooden vessel was transporting between 60 to 75 people Thursday when it took on water and overturned near Desecho Island off the coast of Puerto Rico

At least 11 people - all women - died after the wooden vessel they were being smuggled on took on water and overturned off the coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday after it had sailed from the Dominican Republic's eastern coast

At least 11 people – all women – died after the wooden vessel they were being smuggled on took on water and overturned off the coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday after it had sailed from the Dominican Republic’s eastern coast

U.S. Coast Guard said Monday it was no longer searching for possible survivors after a vessel overturned near the uninhabited Desecho Island, located off Puerto Rico's west coast. Authorities said 11 Haitian migrant women died and 38 people were rescued, including the captain

U.S.Coast Guard said Monday it was no longer searching for possible survivors after a vessel overturned near the uninhabited Desecho Island, located off Puerto Rico’s west coast. Authorities said 11 Haitian migrant women died and 38 people were rescued, including the captain 

A CBP spokesperson told DailyMail.com that border agents and coast guard officers had to intervene when some of the surviving migrants attempted to beat Montilla. 

Authorities estimated between 60 to 75 people were on the boat at the time of the tragic accident.

Efforts to search for potential survivors were called off Monday by the U.S.Coast Guard after crews canvassed the area, which lies west of Puerto Rico, for four days.

‘Our most heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those who did not survive or remain missing,’ said Capt. Gregory Magee, commander of the San Juan Coast Guard sector.’These crews have done their utmost to ensure that if there were any more survivors, that they would have had the best chance to be rescued.’

CBP has seen a sharp increase over the last couple of months in migrants, especially from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, making what they describe as dangerous voyages aboard the dingy boats that often capsize or drop people off in uninhabited islands. 

The perilous trip is one of the cheapest ways for migrants to flee poverty and violence in Haiti where a rising inflation, kidnappings and gang violence have prompted people to take the risk of finding a spot on makeshift vessels in search of a better life elsewhere.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 38 migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic were rescued after their vessel was spotted in open waters near the Puerto Rican island of Desecho

The U.S.Coast Guard rescued 38 migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic were rescued after their vessel was spotted in open waters near the Puerto Rican island of Desecho

A U.S. Coast Guard crew uses a flotation device to rescue migrants after their vessel overturned near Puerto Rico on Thursday

A U.S.Coast Guard crew uses a flotation device to rescue migrants after their vessel overturned near Puerto Rico on Thursday

Paramedics escort a woman after she and 37 migrants were rescued in the open waters near  Desecho Island off Puerto Rico's west coast

Paramedics escort a woman after she and 37 migrants were rescued in the open waters near  Desecho Island off Puerto Rico’s west coast

Paramedics escort one of the 38 migrants who were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard near the coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday after the boat they were being smuggled on overturned. At least 11 female migrants from Haiti died

Paramedics esenyurt escort one of the 38 migrants who were rescued by the U.S.Coast Guard near the coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday after the boat they were being smuggled on overturned. At least 11 female migrants from Haiti died

According to CBP data, at least 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S.Virgin Islands between October 1, 2001 – the start of fiscal year 2022 – and March.

The majority of those Haitians, 348 of them, landed in Puerto Rico’s uninhabited Mona Island and were rescued. 

In fiscal year 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained, compared with the 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans apprehended in fiscal year 2020.

Meanwhile, the U.S.Coast Guard said that in the fiscal year that ended September 30, it apprehended 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 people from the Dominican Republic in the region, which includes Florida and the Caribbean.

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