Venezuelan migrant shipwreck death toll rises to 28

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A communal grave dug for 20 of the Venezuelan migrants that died in a shipwreck trying to reach Trinidad and Tobago

At least 28 Venezuelan migrants died when a boat heading for Trinidad and Tobago sank, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said on Thursday.

The boat left Guiria in the northeastern state of Sucre on December 6 but never reached its destination.

The first bodies started appearing last Friday while coastguards performed routine patrols.

Over the weekend, 14 bodies were recovered either at sea or washed up on beaches.

"The number has reached 28 right now, of which 26 have been identified," said Saab.

It is believed there were around 30 people aboard the boat.

Boats that are barely sea-worthy and loaded with Venezuelan migrants fleeing an economic crisis that has left millions in abject poverty often leave Guiria heading for Trinidad, which is about 10 kilometers (six miles) off the coast of Venezuela.

Around 100 people disappeared trying to make the crossing between 2018 and 2019.

Saab said each migrant had paid $150 to what he described as a human-trafficking ring for their passage.

He has ordered the arrest of 10 people. The boat owner and the owner of the farm from which the boat left have been arrested and charged with people-trafficking.

The government has also ordered the arrest of seven members of the National Guard for extorsion linked to the tragedy.

The United Nations estimates that five million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 with Venezuela wracked by economic and political crises.

Some 25,000 of those have gone to Trinidad, a dual-island country of 1.3 million.

erc/jt/bc/dw