August 17, 2005
Over 100 Ecuadorean emigrants drown as boat sinks
By Luis Jaime Acosta and Carlos Andrade
BOGOTA/QUITO, Colombia (Reuters) - More than 100
Ecuadoreans trying to illegally emigrate to the United States
drowned last week when the overcrowded fishing boat they were
traveling aboard sank in the Pacific Ocean, authorities said on
The boat, which was designed to hold 15 people, was
carrying 113 when it sank off the coast of Colombia, an
Ecuadorean navy spokesman said. The boat left the port of
Manta, Ecuador, on Thursday without authorization, he said.
Nine people survived days in the water by clinging to
plastic containers and other wreckage before being rescued by
fishermen on Tuesday, the Colombian navy said.
There were conflicting reports about when the boat sank.
The spokesman for the Ecuadorean navy said it went down on
Friday. But Colombian Adm. Jairo Pena told Reuters the boat
sank on Saturday, probably after the wooden hull sprang a leak.
"They were packed in terrible conditions inside a fishing
boat made of wood. It began to take on water and within a
minute was completely full and sank with the people on board,"
One of the survivors, who arrived back in Manta on
Wednesday, told Ecuadorean television a wave capsized the boat.
"I was awake when the boat sank. It wasn't such a big wave
for you to think it would turn the boat over. I was on the
deck. Then it was just terrifying. Next thing I knew, we were
holding on to a barrel," the unnamed man said.
Colombia's navy launched a search and rescue operation to
look for bodies after the incident was reported late on
"We didn't find any corpses in the fly-over we carried out.
We're sending two ships to the area to see if we can find
anything left from the boat," Pena said.
The boat sank 140 miles, from Colombia's Malpelo Island.
Ecuadorean President Alfredo Palacio expressed his
condolences to the relatives of the dead in a communique and
said he would step up the fight against people smuggling.
"This is an evil which hits the poorest hardest," Palacio
After pressure from the United States, Ecuador recently
imposed harsh penalties of up to 18 years in prison for cases
of people smuggling resulting in deaths.
The sinking highlighted the dangers faced by the many
Ecuadoreans who pay smugglers to take them to the United
The U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted at least one boat
dangerously overloaded with would-be migrants from the unstable
Desperate Ecuadoreans pay traffickers thousands of dollars
to transport them by sea to Central America or Mexico, then
they try to enter the U.S. on foot.
About 500,000 Ecuadoreans -- about one in 25 -- have left
since an economic crisis in 1999, mainly seeking new lives in
the United States and Spain.