BOGOTA -- A small boat overloaded with 113 undocumented immigrants capsized and sank in rough waters off Colombia's Pacific coast, officials said yesterday. Only nine survivors were found, their faces scorched by the sun after two days of clinging to a box, buoys, and a gasoline container.
An Ecuadoran Navy captain, Armando Elizalde, told Colombia's
The disaster that hit the boat -- whose passengers were believed to be heading for the United States -- occurred Friday night more than 100 miles off southwest Colombia.
''The boat, with way too many people aboard, was unable to resist a strong wave and it tipped over," Elizalde said, adding that most of those aboard were in the ship's hold when it capsized.
When the wave struck, 17-year-old Angel Lalbay and other passengers ''tumbled over each other" into the ocean. ''We hung on to a gas container for two days," he told Ecuador's Channel 10 news. Four of the 13 people who emerged from the boat drowned after their strength gave out, he added.
An Ecuadoran fishing boat found the nine survivors -- seven men and two women -- on Sunday, Elizalde said. They were later transferred to an Ecuadoran Coast Guard cutter and on Wednesday returned to Ecuador.
Most of the survivors were in their 20s; the youngest was 15 years old.
Julio Cisalima, 25, said he also held on to the gas container to keep afloat.
''The boat tipped, there were lots of people. We then spent two days at sea and had to swim a lot," he told Ecuadoran television.
Another survivor, whose name was not given, said he held on to a buoy. ''There was a little bag of water floating and that's what we were surviving on," he told Colombia's Caracol television.
The Colombian Navy and Ecuador's coast guard were searching for others from the boat.
The disaster highlighted the perilous journey that migrants seeking to escape poverty in their homeland sometimes can undertake to reach the United States.
Traffickers often use Ecuador's coast as a launching point, frequently taking immigrants to Guatemala or Mexico so they can travel into the United States.
Last May, a Costa Rican fisherman rescued 88 would-be migrants from Ecuador and Peru from their foundering vessel after he had found a message in a bottle that they had tied to a float marking one of his long fishing lines.
The migrants said that they had paid traffickers as much as $3,000 each as a down payment for the trip, and that they had promised to pay another $7,000 more upon completion of the journey.
But the boat's crew abandoned them at sea after the engine failed.