Two bodies and seven people rescued are the official figures so far after a boat sank last Friday off the coast of Guiria, Venezuela, in the Gulf of Paria.
Those on board were said to be trying to enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally.
Over the weekend, the governor of Delta Amacuro state in Venezuela, Lizeta Hernández, confirmed the reports in a statement. Hernández said the boat left in the early hours of Friday from La Horqueta, in the city of Tucupita, carrying about 24 people.
Hours later, fishermen told the passengers' relatives about the shipwreck and the families notified the authorities and local media.
Hernández said: "We are very sorry for this event where two citizens have lost their lives so far, one male and the other female. We do not know their names. We have rescued seven people so far."
Commissioner of the Organization of American States (OAS) for the Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis David Smolansky said on his Twitter account there had been three deaths and another 15 people are still missing.
In a subsequent post, Smolansky said: “A refugee woman has been rescued after the shipwreck. She spent more than ten hours overnight at sea. Her name is Alba Sánchez. She is from Tucupita. There are still at least 15 missing. A tragedy."
Smolansky said that over the weekend, in addition to these three deaths, a man and his two grandchildren had drowned in a river on the border between Venezuela and Colombia, also trying to flee Venezuela.
Families and friends of the victims, both in TT and in Venezuela, are pressing the Venezuelan authorities to intensify the search. On Monday there were protests outside the police stations in Tucupita and Guiria.
This is the second sinking of a boat carrying Venezuelan migrants between Venezuela and TT in four months. In December 2020, the boat Mis Recuerdos was also wrecked near Guiria, and more than 20 people died.
April 23 marked two years since the boat Jhonaily José disappeared in the Bocas carrying 30 people. No survivors or bodies were found.
On Monday, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) issued a statement calling for safer routes for Venezuelan migrants.
The joint UNHCR and IOM representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, Eduardo Stein said: “As conditions in the country (Venezuela) continue to deteriorate – worsened by the covid19 pandemic – people continue to undertake trips in which they risk their lives."
Stein said humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as the implementation of protection-focused entry systems and proper reception mechanisms, can prevent the use of irregular routes, smuggling and human trafficking.
"Shipwrecks, tragic deaths at border crossings and increased suffering are avoidable, but only if immediate and concrete international action is taken to find pragmatic solutions make saving lives and protecting human rights a priority," Stein said.
To date, the UNHCR and the IOM report more than five million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the world, of whom 200,000 are in Caribbean countries.