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Boat Reported Capsized With 48 Aboard; Four Bodies Recovered

December 23, 1986

RINCON, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Rescuers today searched the waters just off western Puerto Rico today for survivors of a capsized boat believed carrying 48 illegal aliens from the Dominican Republic, with 34 people still missing.

″It was rough out there and it’s a miracle we’re alive,″ said survivor Mauricio Martinez Perez, 20, today. He said he could not swim.

Officials said six bodies - of five men and a woman - were recovered after the boat overturned Monday night and eight survivors were in custody, five men and three women.

Coast Guard, Navy and police boats and helicopters searched the area today. Police spokesman Miguel Feliciano said 12 women and 36 men were said to be aboard.

Local fishermen said they fear most of the missing may be dead, but police said they expect at least some made it to shore and fled from authorities into the wooded hills that overlook Rincon, 75 miles west of San Juan.

The 30-foot boat capsized 250 yards from Puerto Rico after a treacherous journey across the 75-mile-wide Mona Passage which separates Puerto Rico from the island of Hispaniola, which the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti.

Three survivors were taken to Mayaguez Medical Center, 10 miles southeast of Rincon. One of them, Elia Dalia Pena, 33, was listed in critical condition.

The two other survivors hospitalized are Teodoro Martinez, 28, and Evelyn Espiritu Santo, 20.

Four male survivors were taken into custody by police Monday night. A woman was found by police on the shore this morning. Those five were held at Rincon police station. They were identified as Perez; Inocencio Santana Guerrero, 18; Carlos Mercedes Giron, 22; Moises Abreu Rivera, 18; and Angela Guerrero, in her 20s.

Fishermen who helped in the search told reporters the boat capsized in a rocky area with strong currents and they doubted many could have reached shore.

According to Martinez, the boat reached Desecheo island off western Puerto Rico Monday morning and those aboard then decided to try landing at Punta Higuero, Puerto Rico’s westernmost point.

He said the sea was rough and a big wave overturned the boat about 8 p.m. within sight of shore, spilling everyone into the water. Martinez said he and others survived by clinging to gasoline tanks from the boat.

Lt. Harry Haines, a spokesman for the Coast Guard search and rescue unit in San Juan, said it was believed some survivors reached shore and eluded police.

Thousands of Dominicans enter the United States illegally each year in small boats that cross the shark-infested Mona Passage.

James H. Walker, regional director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Juan, said more than 1,000 Dominicans a month try to enter Puerto Rico in the winter when the water in the passage is relatively calm.

More than half elude officials.

Aliens who avoid capture travel to metropolitan San Juan where they easily assimilate with the Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Rico is a self-governing entity in associated with the United States, and according to INS officials, many of the Dominicans get to New York.

Economic factors are a main consideration. Underemployment and unemployment combined total about 40 percent in the Dominican Republic and most of those who do work earn less than $1 an hour.

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