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9 survive Ecuadorean boat sinking; 100 missing

One of the nine survivors (C) of a ship
One of the nine survivors, center, from a boat packed with illegal migrants disembarks from an Ecuadoran navy vessel Friday in Manta, Ecuador. Jorge Rodriguez / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A boat carrying more than 100 illegal immigrants capsized and sank in rough waters in the Pacific Ocean, and only nine survivors were found, clinging to a wooden box and buoys, officials said Wednesday.

Ecuadorean Navy Capt. Armando Elizalde told Colombian RCN television most of the 113 people aboard “sank with the boat.”

The disaster that hit the boat — whose passengers were believed to be heading for the United States — occurred Friday night more than 100 miles off the coast of southwest Colombia.

“The boat, with way too many people aboard, was unable to resist a strong wave and it tipped over,” Elizalde said, adding that most of those aboard were in the ship’s hold when it capsized and could not escape. Thirteen people emerged on the surface but four of them later slipped under the waves, he said.

An Ecuadorean fishing boat found the survivors — seven men and two women — on Sunday, Elizalde said. They were later transferred to an Ecuadorean Coast Guard cutter.

One of the nine survivors of a ship carr
One of the nine survivors of a ship carrying illegal migrants which sank Friday with 113 people on board, is disembarked on a stretcher from an Ecuadoran Navy vessel 17 August, 2005 in Manta, Ecuador. One-hundred-four people drowned when the Ecuadoran motorboat sank in the Pacific Ocean off Colombia, officials said Wednesday. The boat was headed for Central America, carrying 113 people hoping to enter the United States illegally. The boat sank 194 kilometers (120 miles) from Colombia's Malpelo Island, which lies hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the coast. AFP PHOTO JORGE RODRIGUEZ-EL MERCURIO DE MANTA (Photo credit should read JORGE RODRIGUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)Jorge Rodriguez / AFP

The Colombian Navy said one of its planes and a boat were being deployed in a search-and-rescue operation. Ecuador’s Coast Guard was also participating.

The disaster highlighted the perilous journey that migrants seeking to escape poverty in their homeland undertake to reach the United States.

Traffickers often use Ecuador’s coast as a launching point, frequently taking illegal immigrants to Guatemala or Mexico so they can travel overland into the United States.

Crew abandons ship
Last May, a Costa Rican fisherman rescued 88 would-be migrants from Ecuador and Peru from their foundering vessel after he found a message in a bottle they had tied to a float marking one of his long fishing lines.

The migrants said that they had paid traffickers as much as $3,000 each as a down payment for the trip, with a promise to pay $7,000 more upon completing the journey. But the boat’s crew abandoned them at sea after the engine failed.

In August 2004, a U.S. Coast Guard ship intercepted a disabled Ecuadorean boat carrying 106 illegal immigrants from Ecuador. The Coast Guard boarded the 40-foot fishing boat some 415 miles off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. The drifting boat had apparently been abandoned by its crew.

Rear Adm. Eduardo Navas, general director of Ecuador’s merchant marines, said those aboard the boat that sank in the nighttime darkness Friday, plunging the occupants into the icy waters of the Pacific, were presumably heading to the United States.

The passengers had departed from a beach near Esmeraldas, on Ecuador’s northern coast.

Navas told Ecuadorean TV it was “a crime to have placed” so many Ecuadoreans in such a small boat, measuring no more than 65 feet in length.