Only three of those on board made it, plucked from the Atlantic by the US Coast Guardafter both boats capsized. Rescuers gave up the search for the others early yesterday, saying they feared about 40 had drowned in what was the worst illegal immigrant disaster off Florida.
A Coast Guard spokesman said the immigrants had fled Haiti and had reached the Bahamas, where they worked illegally to earn at least pounds 1,500 to be smuggled to the US.
They were within 30 miles of Palm Beach when one of the boats sprang a leak on Saturday night. As the 18 refugees, who were a few hundred yards from the shore, tried to scramble on to the other boat, holding 25 people, it capsized. Some could not swim. Others clung to debris.
The crew of a freighter heard screams but could see no one. They called the Coast Guard, who used night vision goggles to locate the survivors clinging to an oil drum.Reuse content