Venezuelan authorities recovered eight more bodies, including an 11-month-old baby at sea off Guira on Sunday – a day after they recovered 11 bodies near the same area.
The victims, Venezuelan media reported, were heading to Trinidad. It is believed that the boat capsized some days ago, causing them to drown.
On Sunday, media outlet Últimas Noticias reported that the 11 initial victims found on Saturday were four women, four men, two boys and a girl ages two, six, and eight.
The decomposing bodies, found at about 6.10 pm, were about seven nautical miles off the coast of Sucre.
Officials transferred the bodies to the morgue of the Santos Anibal Dominic hospital in Carúpano. Unofficially, the media outlet learned that the boat was bound for TT.
Another newspaper, El Periódico Del Delta, later reported the authorities found eight more, including an 11-month-old baby. The report did not give additional information about the latest find.
Relatives of the deceased said three days ago they lost contact with them, the newspaper said.
It is believed they drifted in Boca de Dragón (Dragon Mouth), an area of great turbulence.
The report quoted David Smolansky, a politician and commissioner for migrant and refugee affairs.
"The images are daunting and remind us of shipwrecks that occurred in other latitudes. There are no lists of names, few bodies have been identified."
Activist Yesenia Gonzalez, a Venezuelan who lives in Trinidad, told Newsday she has been receiving conflicting reports about the incident.
On Saturday morning, a man called her saying he lost contact with his wife and child who were heading to the island on a boat.
She told him to forward her the names, but he did not. He claimed the group was turned away by TT Coast Guard.
When the news of 11 deaths broke, scores of people told her the same thing.
"The majority of people are telling me that the group reached Trinidad, and the Coast Guard sent them back. Some say the boat did not have enough fuel. It is unfortunate and so sad.
"These people are desperate and want to leave because of the crisis."
National Security Minister Stuart Young on Sunday expressed condolences to the families of those who died. He described the incident as "tragic and upsetting."
Responding on Sunday to Newsday's questions via WhatsApp, Young said he was saddened by the incident and dismissed earlier reports on social media which suggested local authorities were involved.
"I have been informed that the bodies that have been recovered were close to the Venezuelan coastal town of Guiria. Our Coast Guard has been in touch with the Venezuelan authorities who confirmed the above.
"I have seen all sorts of speculation and misinformation about the involvement of the TT Coast Guard, none of which is true.
"If this is an incident of human smuggling, it is very sad that once again the criminal elements have, through their nefarious activities, caused the loss of lives. I pray for the families."
A release from the Coast Guard on Sunday said checks have indicated that it did not intercept any vessels coming from Guiria on December 6 or any time thereafter.
The release said the Coast Guard got information on Saturday from the Venezuelan authorities about the 11 bodies recovered earlier from the waters close to Guiria.
Preliminary information suggests that a vessel had departed Guiria on December 6 with more than 20 people on board.
This group has not been seen or heard from since that day.
"At this time, the Coast Guard’s rescue coordination center has dispatched assets as part of a joint search effort with Venezuelan authorities," the release said.
"The Coast Guard continues to provide border security services in the face of the threat of covid19 in order to maintain the safety and security of TT through the conduct of maritime security patrols within its area of operations."
RC bishop of Carupano Jaime José Villarroel Rodríguez expressed condolences to the bereaved families on behalf of himself, Fr Jesus Villarroel, and the diocese.
He told Newsday by WhatsApp that the deaths saddened him. He said he would be visiting the bereaved families on Monday. He criticised the port of Guiria.
He said he cannot understand why the authorities (Venezuela) allow people to make illegal trips, expressing concerns about human trafficking.
"Some people take advantage of the situation to get money. Because of the crisis, people want to leave.
"Most of the time, these people risk their lives, making illegal trips. I always speak with the authorities here, and they don’t take enough action. What they went through was terrible."
Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne, said he has personally communicated with the Ambassador of Venezuela to TT and expressed sincere condolences from "our people extended to the people of Venezuela."
Browne said: "As we await further details, all of us in TT have been saddened by the reports of a maritime tragedy in Venezuelan waters that resulted in the drowning of multiple individuals."
With additional reporting by Shane Superville