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Bodies of 5 Migrants Recovered in Waters Near Puerto Rico

FILE - A U.S. Coast Guard vessel searches for survivors of a Puerto Rico National Guard helicopter crash, Dec. 22, 2010. The Coast Guard responded July 28, 2022, to a report of deaths related to a suspected human smuggling operation near Puerto Rico.

The bodies of five migrants have been recovered in waters off Mona Island near Puerto Rico, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. Coast Guard responded Thursday morning to a report of a makeshift wooden vessel, suspected of taking part in human smuggling, that dropped off a group of non-U.S. citizens in waters near uninhabited Mona Island.

"The smugglers basically forced the migrants to disembark. It appears that five of the migrants drowned in the process," said Jeffrey Quinones, U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs officer.

Park rangers from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources found the bodies on Mona Island, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The rangers reported 66 survivors — 41 males and 25 females — including two minors, who made it safely ashore. The nationalities of the migrants were not immediately clear.

"A lot of times [smugglers] leave people on Mona Island, leading them to believe that they're in Puerto Rico," said Joel Seijo, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources spokesperson.

Lying between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Mona Island has been used over the years by human smugglers who carry people between the two places.

In May, amid a steady increase of migrants attempting to reach the U.S. via treacherous sea voyages, at least 11 people drowned when a vessel carrying Haitian migrants capsized near Puerto Rico.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.