Migrants dead, missing after boat capsizes off Panama coast

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 6:25 PM

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – The bodies of drowned migrants were pulled out of the sea off the coast of Panama after a boat capsized in bad weather, Panama’s border police said on Wednesday.

While authorities have not confirmed the number of victims or their nationalities, reports from media outlets including Telemetro and TVn2 said the boat was carrying 25 migrants, four of whom were killed and seven others were missing.

Record numbers of migrants have reached the southern border of the United States in recent years, as thousands travel from South America on their way through Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border. Most flee poverty, gang violence or other hardships in their home countries.

In a statement, Panama’s border police agency Senafront said the victims were found near Panama’s border with Colombia in the Carreto area, near the Caribbean port of Obaldia. The area is not far from a route through a deadly stretch of jungle known as the Darien Gap where many U.S.-bound migrants journey on foot.

It was not clear if the migrants on the boat aimed to bypass the treacherous Darien Gap, or were about to launch their trek through it.

“Irregular migrants were allegedly being transported near the Carreto area by criminals who recklessly insist on risking the lives of these migrants in a dangerous sea area,” according to the statement.

Panama’s government has in recent months boosted security in the Darien province amid an increase in the number of migrants who undertake the harrowing journey en route to the United States.

Last year, a record 520,000 migrants used the route, of which some 328,000 were Venezuelans, according to Panamanian migration authorities.

(Reporting by Eli Moreno; Writing by Brendan O’Boyle; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Stephen Coates)