updated 11/19/2008 8:41:37 PM ET 2008-11-20T01:41:37

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Wednesday for roughly 90 migrants feared dead after their makeshift boat apparently sank in an often-stormy stretch of water between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

For four days, rescue crews had used helicopters, a cutter and several aircraft to look for a sign of the wooden boat reported missing in the perilous 80-mile (130-kilometer) Mona Passage separating the Dominican Republic from this comparatively wealthy U.S. territory.

But Coast Guard Capt. Eduardo Pino said the mission was suspended Wednesday evening after rescuers found no debris or bodies in the white-capped waters where the Atlantic collides with the Caribbean Sea.

Earlier reports put the number of passengers at 40, but Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said the estimated number of people on the boat had risen to about 90 since the weekend.

The illegal migrants apparently were all Dominicans, but authorities could not rule out that a few Cubans or Haitians might also have been on the boat, known as a "yola."

"We call out to the Dominican people for their help in preventing these tragedies. Do not allow your loved ones to put their lives in the hands of migrant smugglers, criminals, who care only about making a profit," Pino said.

The boat left the southeastern Dominican Republic last Wednesday night and a woman whose boyfriend was on the boat alerted authorities that it was missing on Saturday, according to Castrodad.

Several other relatives then reported that the vessel did not arrive in Puerto Rico on Friday as planned. The Coast Guard search, aided by Dominican rescue crews, began Sunday.

Hundreds of illegal Dominican migrants brave the perilous ocean voyage to Puerto Rico each year to seek better lives.

A boat carrying 33 Dominican migrants got lost last month as they tried to reach Puerto Rico. Five survivors who were rescued after 15 days at sea said they ate one of the dead passengers to stay alive.

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