Patrol vessel blamed for collision which left 60 Haitian migrants dead

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Haitian migrants who survived a capsizing in which more than 60 people drowned have told how their boat turned over after being towed into deep water by a patrol vessel from the Turks and Caicos islands, a British dependent territory.

They have also alleged that police beat them with wooden batons when they tried to scramble aboard the patrol boat from the shark-filled waters. Some of the survivors claimed the patrol boat deliberately rammed their vessel. But British investigators who travelled to the islands have concluded there is no evidence to support the claim.

The capsizing happened a week ago when the sailboat loaded with 160 people was just minutes away from Providenciales, one of the Turks and Caicos islands.

"When they hit us the first time, water rushed into the boat and everybody screamed," Dona Daniel, one of the survivors, told the Associated Press.

He said the patrol boat crew ordered the migrants to lower their sails, threw them a line and began towing them into deeper water. The boat then capsized.

Survivors said some tried to pull themselves on to the patrol boat but that they were beaten back. Another migrant Lovderson Nacon, 19, said some people were run over by the patrol boat. "We fell into the water and many people drowned. I was swimming past dead bodies left and right," added Marcelin Charles.

Officials in London said investigators from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport had concluded that while the two vessels had touched, there was no evidence to support claims that the migrants' boat had been rammed. A separate investigation by the government of the territory is continuing.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and around 80 per cent of the population survive on $2 a day. Despite some improvements under the government of Réne Préval, who was elected last year, life for the vast majority is harsh and often desperate. The Turks and Caicos government has criticised Haiti for not doing more to stem illegal immigrants, around 400 of whom arrive every month. Officials say many migrants are told by smugglers that they are being taken to the US.