SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Six Dominican stowaways hoping to reach the United States died aboard a cargo ship, and officials have detained its crew, the navy reported Thursday.

The crew discovered 22 stowaways in the hold of the Panamanian-registered Aurora Jade on Wednesday between Santo Domingo and New Orleans, according to a navy report.

The report quoted 23-year-old Israel Mercedes as saying six in the group died after a substance, possibly a fumigant, was sprayed into the hold, which was carrying rolls of cable. Mercedes said he believed the crew wanted to kill them.

He said the substance made the stowaways cough and vomit.

Captain Eusebio Panopio turned his vessel around and returned to Santo Domingo.

Two of the stowaways fled and the others were held for questioning and then released.

Panopio and his crew of 22, mainly Filipinos, are being detained on their ship while officials investigate the charges.