CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan officials said Friday they have accounted for 16 survivors from the deadly shipwreck of a small motorboat carrying migrants that broke apart on the rocks of a Caribbean island.
The death toll rose to five after the body of a man washed ashore on the Dutch Island of Curacao and was discovered in the morning, police spokesman Reginald Huggins said. He confirmed that at least three of the victims had recently been deported from the small island.
"Emotionally it hits you because you're a human being. You have feelings for them," Huggins said. "On the other hand, we have laws in the country."
The boat carrying roughly 30 people left Tuesday night on the short but treacherous route taken by Venezuelans fleeing their country's economic collapse in search of jobs and money to send back home.
Early Wednesday police discovered the first four bodies and the wreckage of the boat on the shore of Curacao, 45 miles (70 kilometers) from the mainland.
Its remains were found smashed on rocks near the entrance of a lagoon called Koraal Tabak. The area is known for rough seas, but officials say smugglers sometimes use it in hopes of avoiding patrols on Curacao's southern coast.
In Venezuela, Regional Civil Protection director Jose Montano said relatives confirmed that 11 of the passengers survived. Some were in hiding on the island because they entered illegally, he said.
Five survivors were in custody in Curacao for entering illegally, two of them in a hospital. Police used photos to identify three of the victims who were between 22 and 24 years old, Montano said.
Residents of the small Venezuelan community of La Vela de Coro mourned the victims.
"Because of the hunger that we live with here, she went to find a job," Aura Chirinos said of her daughter, who was among the dead. "She has two little babies, one three months old today."
Ines Molero, whose son-in-law managed to swim to shore safely, said the economic crisis drives young people to risk their lives in search of work.
"Those kids left with the hope of returning someday, to feed their children," Molero said.
The accident comes amid heightened tensions after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered a trade blockade with the nearby Dutch islands of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire last Friday, suspending sea and air travel.
His government contends that smuggling of goods from Venezuela to neighboring countries and islands is one of the causes of the severe shortage of food and other basics plaguing the South American nation.