Hunt ends for missing from Curacao boat crash; 4 known dead

AP News
Posted: Jan 11, 2018 5:24 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Authorities called off a search Thursday for more than two dozen people who may have been on a boat carrying migrants from crisis-wracked Venezuela that crashed onto rocks on a nearby Dutch island, leaving four confirmed dead.

No survivors were found, but searchers also did not find any more bodies after discovering two men and two women dead on Curacao's north shore a day earlier. Two people were known to have safely reached shore after the crash, Venezuelan officials said.

The four dead were identified as Venezuelan migrants deported from the island in December, said Rodrick Gouverneur, spokesman for the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard.

Dutch authorities did not know how many people were on the boat, but Venezuelan officials said it held 34. Gouverneur said similar-sized smuggling boats have been known to carry up to 30 people.

The remains of what appeared to be a 25-foot motor boat were found smashed on rocks near the entrance of a lagoon in an area called Koraal Tabak. It is an area known for rough seas, but smugglers sometimes use it in hopes of avoiding patrols on Curacao's southern coast, Gouverneur said.

"If you don't know it well, it's a very difficult area to navigate," he said.

Dutch authorities said a search by boats and helicopters did not find any survivors or additional bodies and called off the hunt Thursday afternoon.

Officials in Venezuela said the boat left Tuesday night for Curacao, which is about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from the mainland at its closest point. The journey is frequently taken by people fleeing Venezuela's economic collapse.

Regional Civil Protection director Jose Montano said two people on the boat managed to swim safely to shore in Curacao. Authorities learned of the incident after relatives of one passenger called for help, he said.

Curacao police spokesman Reginald Huggins said he didn't know whether the two men who made it to shore were on the same boat or another. He said they were in custody.

He said officers discovered the four bodies Wednesday morning. "We also found a lot of wood that's from a boat," he said, adding that debris included gas cans and personal belongings.

Luis Stefanelli, a member of Venezuela's congress, said passengers on the boat were all under age 35.

The accident comes amid heightened tensions in Venezuela after socialist President Nicolas Maduro on Friday ordered a trade blockade with the nearby Dutch islands of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire, suspending sea and air travel.

His government contends that smuggling of products out of Venezuela to neighboring countries and islands is one of the causes of the severe shortage of food and other basic products plaguing the South American nation.