Seventeen dead after Haitian migrant boat capsizes off Turks and Caicos Islands

 

At least 17 migrants from Haiti died on Wednesday when their overloaded sailboat capsized as it was being towed to shore in the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials in the British territory said.

A marine unit of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force had intercepted the packed sloop about two hours earlier and was escorting it to shore when it abruptly overturned, sparking a frantic search and rescue operation in the pre-dawn darkness. 

Karlo Pelissier, the Haitian consul to the Turks and Caicos, said he was told by survivors that several migrants attempted to jump off the 28-foot boat and flee to land as they neared the island of Providenciales and that the surge caused the overloaded sloop to overturn. 

Officials had not confirmed that as the cause of the capsizing. 

Authorities rescued 33 migrants, including one 12-year-old boy, and recovered the bodies of 17 people. 

Divers and U.S. Coast Guard helicopters assisted in a search for additional survivors or victims in the area where the incident occurred, about 150 yards from shore. 

A scaled-down search was planned for Thursday but further casualties were not expected, said Neil Smith, a government spokesman. The remains of the 12 men and five women killed would be repatriated after autopsies to establish the cause of death. 

Survivors were being detained at a migrant detention center in Providenciales, the most populated island in the chain southeast of the Bahamas, and there were no major injuries. 

"They are tired, but they are OK," Pelissier said in a phone interview as he met with them. 

The migrants, mostly from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and the northern city of Cap-Haitien, had set off on their voyage Sunday night, Pelissier said. 

They paid $500-$1,000 (about £305 to £610) each and were trying to reach Miami or the Bahamas as well as Turks and Caicos, which has an established community of migrants from Haiti working in construction, tourism and service jobs. 

Haitian officials said they try to discourage migrants from risking these journeys. 

"We are saddened by such tragedy and present our condolences and prayers to the families and friends of those affected by this accident," said Salim Succar, an adviser to Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. 

The rescued migrants are expected to be repatriated to Haiti in the coming days. 

Authorities had not yet identified the captain of the vessel or any of the human smugglers from among the survivors, police spokesman Audley Astwood said. "Right now, the focus of our operation is search and rescue, trying to save as many lives as possible," he added. 

The Turks and Caicos, in addition to being a destination for Haitian migrants seeking to escape their impoverished country, is also a favoured route for smugglers. The waters surrounding the islands are dotted with many tiny cays, reefs and patches of shallow water, making it treacherous for sailors, especially when boats are overloaded. 

In November, an overloaded migrant sloop overturned in the southern Bahamas and an estimated 30 people drowned. 

In July 2009, a sailboat with estimated 200 Haitians aboard ran aground on a reef off Turks and Caicos, killing at least 15 people. 

In May 2007, at least 61 migrants died when their boat capsized, also just off shore from Providenciales.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy