Human smuggling to Puerto Rico across the Mona Passage
Near midnight on April 2, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations agents detected and intercepted a wooden makeshift vessel with 35 migrants from the Dominican Republic and Haiti attempting to reach the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico.
Seeking a better life in Puerto Rico — and perhaps eventually the U.S. mainland — Dominicans often set sail across the treacherous Mona Passage, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea, in small single-engine boats called yolas.
The strait is only 70 miles across by the most direct route, but the trip can take days in foul weather. The seas in the Mona Passage often become very rough, very quickly, due to tidal currents created by the large islands on either side of it, and by sand banks extending many miles from both coasts. Fifteen-foot waves, or even higher, are not uncommon.
On that evening, CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) agents in a DHC-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft observed a single-engine yola moving east without navigational lights, about 40 miles from Cabo Rojo on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico .
The crew contacted an AMO Marine Interceptor Vessel crew, which intercepted the vessel 18 nautical miles from the island, finding 35 people onboard. The migrants claimed to be from the Dominican Republic and Haiti; CBP reports that 30 males, 4 females and 1 minor were discovered aboard the vessel.
This July 2014 CBS This Morning report described CBP efforts to thwart human smuggling operations across the Mona Passage. Human smugglers would drop Haitians off on Mona Island, which belongs to Puerto Rico, and the Coast Guard would courteously rescue them and bring them to Puerto Rico.