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Ecuadorean Migrants Return Home

April 5, 2001

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador (AP) _ A boatful of 149 Ecuadoreans who tried to make their way to the United States via the Pacific Ocean were returned home after being abandoned by immigrant smugglers and then rescued by U.S. ships.

The migrants arrived at this northern port city late Wednesday aboard the frigate USS Halyburton, which had helped rescue them after five days adrift _ three without food or water.

They were found Saturday drifting on the powerless, 60-foot Fortuna, about 250 miles off the coast of Costa Rica.

The boat had failed on Tuesday, said Rolando Morocho, 32, a farmer. ``When we realized it, the crew had already left in a smaller boat. They left us stranded in the middle of nowhere.″

The migrants left the southern port of Manta on March 10, heading from Ecuador to Guatemala, where they had planned to go north to the United States. They didn’t know where in the United States they would land or when, Morocho said.

After the boat stopped, one of the passengers somehow managed to contact a relative in Ecuador, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Rick Wester said. He said he did not know if the passenger had a telephone or a radio. The relative in Ecuador then called a family member in New York, who notified the Coast Guard in Alameda, Calif.

``They arrived well. Scared and tired, but well,″ said Miguel Quelal, head of the Esmeraldas Port Authority. ``The majority are farmers who were traveling for the first time.″

The Navy and Coast Guard searched for the boat for two days and covered 17,000 square miles before a Navy plane spotted it. Three Navy ships were dispatched for the rescue, Wester said.

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