Dominicans killed and eaten by sharks many Fatal - In one instance we saw a shark literally throw someone in the air and then attack the person. tag.
Dominican Republic Horror off Death's Head Beach
Hearing the sound of a small plane overhead, some of the 15 to 20 swimmers in the open sea 20 miles off the Dominican Republic gestured frantically for help. The plane was unable to put down on water, however, and its occupants could only look on in helpless horror at the scene unfolding beneath them. The swimmers, passengers on a sinking people-smuggling ship bound for Puerto Rico, were under siege by dozens of sharks. "In one instance we saw a shark literally throw someone in the air and then attack the person," recalled one of the witnesses, Eugenio Cabral, the Dominican Republic's director of civil defense. "It was just unbearable not being able to do anything for them." As more of the swimmers were devoured, the blue waters around them turned red.
The victims of the carnage were among some 150 Dominicans, mostly young women, who had paid up to $600 each for illegal passage to Puerto Rico aboard a 50-ft. wooden fishing boat. The group had set out at 2 a.m. Tuesday from Death's Head Beach in the town of Nagua, about 110 miles north of the capital of Santo Domingo. The ship was only four miles out to sea when, according to some survivors, its two outboard motors exploded. Since most of those aboard were unable to swim, many probably drowned within a few minutes of the accident. But others, either swimming or clinging to hastily emptied floating gasoline containers, tried to reach shore.
A few made it. At 9 a.m. a man identified only as Rubio staggered ashore in Nagua and provided the first word of the tragedy. Others drifted with the current as far as 20 miles out to sea and into shark-filled waters. Some of the victims might have been saved had prompt measures been taken after Rubio's alert. Yet military authorities, complained Civil Defense Director Cabral, did not respond to his call for rescue helicopters. In a desperate effort to locate the survivors himself, he commandeered a private plane, from which he watched the sickening scene. Said Cabral: "If we had helicopters, we could have pulled some of those people out of the water. Instead, all we could do was watch as the sharks attacked them."
Besides Rubio, at least 20 other passengers were known to have reached shore. Still others may have made it to safety unnoticed. But Cabral estimates that as many as 70 of the shipwreck victims drowned or were eaten by sharks. Given the heavy volume of illegal Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico, a tragedy was almost inevitable. Indeed, hundreds of inhabitants of the impoverished Caribbean nation have perished on the dangerous 90-mile journey across the Mona Passage between the two islands. Most of the dead are victims of fierce tropical storms or unscrupulous sea captains who take their passengers' money only to throw them overboard or leave them on deserted islands to starve. Despite the odds, some 150,000 Dominicans have managed in the past few years to make it to Puerto Rico.
In an effort to stem that influx, the U.S. Border Patrol last week opened its first station outside the continental U.S. The office, located at the old Ramey Air Force Base on the west coast of Puerto Rico, will be staffed by 15 officers and equipped with two Boston Whalers and a twin-engine plane. Depending on future patterns of illegal immigration traffic, the Border Patrol may open as many as three other stations on the Puerto Rican coast.
Organized smuggling rings control much of the illegal-alien traffic into Puerto Rico. They do an especially brisk business with Dominicans, many of whom sell all their belongings for a chance to get to U.S. soil. While some Dominicans land in Puerto Rico, others travel to the continental U.S., ( especially New York City. The going rate for a no-frills, no-guarantees trip across the Mona Passage is as high as $1,000. More deluxe trips, complete with falsified documents and a truck ride to San Juan, can cost thousands of dollars.
New smugglers have begun to operate from the French-Dutch island of St. Martin, which Dominicans can enter unhindered, for trips to the less congested east coast of Puerto Rico. Luis Monge, head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's antismuggling unit in San Juan, has targeted at least seven organizations that ship some 250 aliens to Puerto Rico a month. He claims that one man, Ramon Emilio Santana Camacho, is responsible for transporting some 30,000 Dominicans to Puerto Rico and New York since 1976. Although authorities have largely dismantled his far-flung empire, Camacho, who is something of a folk hero in the Dominican Republic, remains free and, according to Monge, is diversifying his operations into cocaine smuggling.
The Dominican exodus has grown along with the country's economic troubles. A huge foreign debt, high inflation and a 30% unemployment rate make it nearly impossible for people to make a living at home. Cutbacks in the U.S. sugar quota last year crippled the chief export industry and displaced thousands of agricultural workers. The refugee flight serves as an escape valve for social discontent, as well as a source of foreign earnings: the emigrants send home an estimated $280 million each year. Concedes Andres Moreta Damiron, the Dominican consul in San Juan: "Our government needs this injection of money."
The results are less positive for Puerto Rico. The island already suffers a 16% unemployment rate. Dominicans, many of whom will work for far less than the U.S. minimum wage of $3.35 an hour, are further undercutting Puerto Ricans in the job market. For Dominicans accustomed to making an average of $85 a month, Puerto Rico is a relative paradise. Many of the male newcomers work as mechanics or construction laborers. The women typically find jobs as housekeepers or cooks at open-air food stands, positions that Puerto Ricans tend to shun. Though the Dominican economy may benefit from such emigration, officials in Santo Domingo discourage citizens from making the perilous trip. Toward that end, they announced plans for a television commercial featuring photos of the blood-stained waters holding the bodies of those who died last week trying to make it to Puerto Rico.
With reporting by Cristina Garcia/San Juan and Ana Martinez/Santo Domingo
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