Haulover Bay, St. John
PHILIPSBURG--Fifteen Venezuelans, a Guyanese and two Iranians left St. Maarten by boat Saturday with the aim of reaching American territory. Two of them, a man and a woman, did not survive the journey to the US Virgin Islands.
People-smugglers brought the group of immigrants – 17 adults and a child – to the coast of St. John, the smallest of the three main US Virgin Islands. The boat arrived in Haulover Bay, a bay inside the Virgin Islands National Park, during the wee hours of Sunday morning.
The passengers were told to jump into the water and swim to the shore. One of the men got into trouble in the water and drowned. A woman was reported missing. Her lifeless body was found by authorities in the afternoon.
News site The Virgin Islands Consortium reported that the 911 Emergency Call Center had received a call from a St. John resident about 4:15am Sunday, reporting that immigrants were coming ashore on St. John. Officers responded to the scene and started making contact with the immigrants in the water and on land about 5:00am.
“Right now, we know that one male individual has drowned and that body has been recovered,” Police Commissioner Ray Martinez said on Sunday morning, adding that law enforcement officials were not certain whether the deceased had been a passenger or a crew member of the vessel.
The vessel is said to have dropped the individuals at their destination before leaving, with the immigrants disembarking at a certain distance and swimming to shore.
The immigrants, who were attempting illegal entry into the United States, were being transported to St. Thomas by law enforcement Sunday afternoon to be turned over to Customs and Border Protection for processing, Martinez said.
Friends and acquaintances in St. Maarten who had waved goodbye to the group of fortune seekers on Saturday have reacted with shock to the tragic news.