The death toll from the sinking of an overloaded boat of Dominican migrants rose to 47 on Wednesday evening, after rescue workers recovered 22 more bodies from the sea.
Reuters reports that 18 passengers had been rescued but several were still missing. Officials described the sinking as the Dominican Republic’s “worst people smuggling tragedy” in recent years.
The 38-foot boat was heading for the US territory of Puerto Rico with over 70 people on board when sank off the north-eastern coast of the Dominican Republic on Saturday, says AP.
The new discoveries dashed hopes that more people had survived the accident and gone into hiding.
AP quotes Samuel Hernandez, who was leading a team of volunteers in the coastal town of Sabana del Mar, from where rescue efforts were being coordinated. “You don't have to look for them anymore. The bodies float up by themselves and can be seen from far away," he said.
More from Global Post: Search continues for missing Dominican migrants after boat sinks enroute to Puerto Rico
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, survivors said the stern had broken because of strong waves and the weight of the passengers. They also claimed to have paid people smugglers between US$770 and US$1,025 for the journey.
AP and Reuters reported that the boat’s captain was among the survivors and had been arrested. Reuters says the Dominican Navy Captain, Ramon Mendez, identified him as Rey David Zepeda, a 40-year-old former milk delivery man who was previously detained in 2000 and 2008 on suspicion of people smuggling.
Meanwhile, a mass burial for 21 bodies that were recovered earlier in the week was held near the Dominican coast on Wednesday, and the coffins of several others were collected by relatives to be buried in their home villages, Reuters says.
AP says that thousands of Dominican, Cuban and Haitian migrants attempt to cross the 160-mile Mona Passage to Puerto Rice every year. In July 2004, about 80 migrants died after their boat capsized.