CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A Venezuelan official confirmed Monday that a small boat carrying at least 20 people sank in Caribbean coastal waters last week, with most of its passengers missing in the second sea tragedy in a month involving Venezuelan migrants taking great risks to escape their country's humanitarian crisis.
Earlier sketchy reports of an accident said as many as 32 people were on board the boat. Last month, a boat carrying Venezuelans sank in the same area. More than 20 people remain missing from that accident.
In the latest incident, the "Ana Maria" left Guiria in Sucre state and was on its way to the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago when it sank Thursday, the official from Venezuela's civil protection agency said. The official was not authorized to speak to the media and agreed to give information on the sinking only on condition his name be withheld. There had been rumors of the disaster since late Saturday.
Relatives of those aboard the boat were appealing for information. But President Nicolas Maduro's government had not commented by late in the day Monday.
One of the passengers was apparently rescued by Robert Richards, an American businessman and sailor who said on Facebook that he and his crew found a young man from Venezuela who had been in the water for 19 hours. Richards posted photos of the man clinging to debris in the sea and said the boat that sank had been on its way to Trinidad to buy supplies because the Venezuelan island they came from has "limited food that's very expensive."
Opposition lawmaker Robert Alcalá, who is from Sucre state, said the passengers included a pregnant woman accompanied by two children ages 2 and 3.
Isidro Villegas said his 32-year-old son, Andy Villegas, migrated to Trinidad a year ago to provide for his family and had recently returned home to visit his wife and son. On Monday, Villegas sent out a boat of his own to look for his son.
"There's no trace of them on the sea," said Villegas, who is a ship captain. "If they had drowned, at least their bodies would've floated to the surface."
Several million Venezuelans, or at least 10 percent of the population, have left the country after years of dire economic conditions. While the majority of Venezuelan migrants have traveled by land into neighboring Colombia and Brazil, overloaded fishing boats sometimes smuggle people to nearby Caribbean islands.