At least four people drowned and dozens are reported missing after a boat carrying Venezuelan migrants sank on its way to the Caribbean island of Curacao, police there said.
Police told Curacao News website they had recovered the bodies of two women and two men, and were searching “to see if there are more.”
Around 30 people were on the boat when it sailed from La Vela de Coro in Venezuela’s northwestern Falcon state, Venezuelan media said.
Luis Stefanelli, an opposition deputy in Falcon, told reporters the boat was loaded with “about 30 people, all of them under 35 years, some minors.”
He said each had paid traffickers $100 “to be taken to the nearby island of Aruba.”
“It is impossible to determine how many” had perished, he said, because those who made it ashore “hid themselves because they were fearful of their situation as illegal immigrants.”
Curacao police said they had arrested two men believed to be migrants in the area where the bodies were found.
“People who leave Venezuela know that there are many risks, many boats are not suitable and there is a strong possibility they will be arrested,” the spokesman said.
The incident happened amid tensions between Venezuela and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, after President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of air and sea traffic to the islands because of alleged smuggling.
Social scientist Tomas Paez said up to 500,000 Venezuelans have left the country in the last two years amid a deepening economic crisis caused by low oil prices, spiraling inflation and corruption that has decimated the oil-rich South American country’s economy.