The U.S. Coast Guard said crews rescued 34 Haitians abandoned by smugglers on a cliff in Puerto Rico on Monday.
USCG Cutter Heriberto Hernandez, a 154-foot vessel homeported in San Juan, responded to reports of a group of people stranded on the uninhabited natural reserve of Monito Cay, which is just off Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
Coast Guard watchstanders in San Juan initially reported the abandoned group after receiving communication from Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Park Rangers.
A Coast Guard Ocean Sentry aircraft flew over the area and confirmed seeing multiple camp fires, prompting the vessel’s response.
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Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez commanding officer Lt. Robert Renfrow said the crew perfectly executed the high-risk, five-hour water rescue with 10 to 15-foot swells.
“This case is concrete proof smugglers are more than willing to abandon people in very austere and highly dangerous environments like Monito,” Renfrow said in a statement.
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To complete the rescue, cutter Heriberto Hernandez launched a small boat to approach the cliff as the group of people moved to the lowest point. Once the small boat was in position, each person took a turn jumping from the cliff into the water where they were pulled to safety.
When the small boat returned to the large vessel, the group was given food, water and basic medical care. The survivors, 26 men, seven women and one boy, were transferred to Ramey Sector U.S Border Patrol agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
The rescue was part of ongoing multi-agency efforts in support of Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Border Interagency Group.
Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, the Coast Guard reportedly intercepted 11 illegal voyages in the Mona Passage and waters near Puerto Rico carrying a total of 324 people without American citizenship. The USCG said 300 of those people were Dominican, 23 were Haitian and one person’s nationality was unknown.
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