DOMINICANS LOOK FOR BOAT SURVIVORS
Walter Astrada  /  AP
Dominicans at the port of Nagua look Wednesday for any other survivors of a boat lost at sea for two weeks. Some 40 people are still missing.
updated 8/11/2004 2:54:59 PM ET 2004-08-11T18:54:59

A migrant lost at sea for nearly two weeks without food and water while trying to reach Puerto Rico said Wednesday more than 40 people died during the trip, and at least one woman who refused to give breast milk to passengers was thrown overboard into shark-infested waters.

A doctor also said the survivors told him some passengers resorted to cannibalism.

Many of the more than 75 people crammed into a 40-foot wooden boat started acting irrationally when provisions for the one-day trip ran out after three days, said Faustina Santana. She was one of 33 migrants found alive Tuesday near this small fishing village, not far from where the boat departed.

“A lot of people just jumped off,” a sobbing Santana, 27, said from her hospital room. “They were going crazy.”

The wary father of another passenger then entered the hospital room, showed Santana a picture of his son and asked if he was among those who jumped. She told him she did not know.

Some survivors still unconscious
Survivors said at least 45 people died during the journey and two died Tuesday on the way to hospitals. Many of the migrants are being treated for dehydration, and many remain unconscious.

Santana said the boat left the Dominican Republic on July 29 and made it to the Puerto Rican island of Desecheo, but its engine then failed. The boat then drifted out to sea, and desperation began to set in among passengers.

Two women offered their breast milk to passengers. One who refused to share her milk was thrown overboard by male passengers, Santana said.

“One woman refused to give breast milk and the men aboard grabbed her from behind and threw her overboard,” Santana said. “They told me to give milk and I said I couldn’t.”

It was unclear whether the women had babies with them on the voyage.

The passengers also shared a coconut they found floating in the ocean.

Rafael Emilio Chalas, director of the Antonio Yapor Hospital in Nagua — 112 miles northeast of Santo Domingo — told a Dominican radio station Tuesday night that some people said they resorted to cannibalism to survive.

More crossings in last year
Worried relatives notified authorities when they did not hear from their loved ones in the days after they left. The journey to Puerto Rico can take a day in good weather.

“It’s way too many lives lost needlessly,” said Lt. Eric Willis, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent cutters and planes to search for the migrants. “And they keep coming.”

There has been a huge influx of Dominican migrants to Puerto Rico in the past year as inflation in their Caribbean homeland has topped 30 percent, unemployment has reached 16 percent and blackouts plague the nation.

More than 7,000 Dominican migrants have been detained trying to reach wealthier Puerto Rico since Oct. 1, more than twice the number for the previous 12 months.

At least 60 migrants have been confirmed dead in the Mona Passage, a shark-infested and rough channel between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. But the number of fatalities are likely higher, Coast Guard authorities say.

There were nine confirmed migrant deaths in the Mona Passage last year.

On Monday, the Dominican Navy rescued 19 boat migrants stranded at sea for two days after their outboard motor failed. They were treated for dehydration.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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