Venezuelan authorities say dozens of people died when a boat sank on December 6 en route to Trinidad and Tobago.
Venezuelan authorities said a boat carrying dozens of migrants to Trinidad and Tobago sank earlier this month because there were too many people on board.
In a statement released on Friday, the country’s Home and Justice Department said 41 people were in the boat which was only equipped to carry eight people.
“The main cause of the sinking was the overloading of the boat,” he said.
The ministry also said people “did not have life jackets or safety equipment necessary for navigation” and that the bad weather conditions had created large waves of two to three meters.
Venezuelan officials said 29 people died when the boat sank on December 6 about 20 km (12 miles) from the coastal town of Guiria in the northeastern state of Sucre.
Relatives of the victims told AFP news agency that 34 bodies had been found.
William Spindler, spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Latin America, told Al Jazeera in an email on December 18 that local nonprofit groups and Venezuelan authorities had indicated that children and a pregnant woman were among the bodies found.
“We are appalled by this tragedy which shows the dangers facing refugees and desperate migrants seeking protection or a better life,” said Spindler.
About 5.4 million Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers have sought refuge outside the country, which faces serious economic and political crises, according to UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
UNHCR said the number of Venezuelans applying for refugee status has increased by 8,000% since 2014. Most have gone to other Latin American countries.
The groups said in a declaration this month, 16,000 Venezuelans were registered by the government of Trinidad and Tobago in May 2019.
“This is the second recorded shipwreck off Venezuela this year. In 2019, three boats were reported missing between Venezuela and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Curaçao, killing at least 80 people, ”the organizations said.
Guiria residents held funeral processions earlier this month after some bodies were recovered.
We are dismayed by this tragedy which shows the dangers facing refugees and desperate migrants seeking protection or a better life.
AFP reported on December 17 that around 100 people followed a truck carrying the coffin of Cristalinda Goitia, a 36-year-old teacher who was on board the boat with her 11-year-old son Cristian Garcia Goitia.
Goitia, who hoped to spend Christmas with her husband and possibly stay in Trinidad, was buried alongside her son, who was laid to rest there a few days earlier.
“Wait for me in Heaven my daughter,” said her mother.
Human rights groups estimate that around 40,000 migrants traveled from northeastern Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago after crossing the 20 km sea route known as the Dragon’s Mouths.
Venezuelan authorities have said that “mafias” are trafficking migrants in the area.
Two people – the owner of the boat and the owner of the land from which he left – have been arrested in connection with the investigation into what happened.