Haiti ferry disaster may have claimed 400 lives
Tuesday 09 September 1997
The US Coastguard in Miami, which spends much of its time intercepting would-be Haitian immigrants trying to reach the United States on rickety boats, said as many as 800 people were thought to have been crammed aboard the ferry. The Coastguard, which sent a helicopter to aid local rescue workers, estimated that at least half of those on board had drowned.
Thousands of Haitians wailed in grief on the pebbled beach of the fishing village of Montrouis as UN divers and a half-dozen fishing boats searched 200 yards offshore for victims. US Coastguard and UN helicopters hovered above the spot where the ferry, the Pride of Gonave, had disappeared in 75ft of water.
"The boat was overloaded. When it manoeuvred to disembark [passengers], everybody ran to one side and the boat tipped over," said survivor Benjamin Joseph, 38, a civil engineer. "If I'm alive, it was a miracle."
The ferry was, in fact, a 60ft wooden sailing sloop with an outboard motor, carrying food from Montrouis to the island of La Gonave to return with vital charcoal used for heating and cooking by Haiti's six million inhabitants. La Gonave residents, workers or farmers pack themselves on to such boats along with livestock to seek work or earn a living in the Western hemisphere's poorest nation.
The vessel was certified to carry only 80 passengers, according to Lt Steve Banks, of the US Coastguard. Its captain told police he had 250 passengers. The captain was in custody while police investigated. His name was not released.
Survivors claimed that many passengers were locked inside the ferry, which consisted of two enclosed decks and a third deck that opened on to the vessel's stern.
As it reached Montrouis at dawn, it turned around so passengers could transfer to rowboats to go ashore. Passengers rushed to one side of the ship, causing it to capsize, survivors said.
Owing to overcrowding, ferry disasters are common off Haiti, a French- speaking republic which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Spanish-language Dominican Republic.
The largest ferries have an official capacity of 300 people - a limit often ignored by Haiti's underregulated sea transport industry. The government claims it doesn't have the resources to monitor the vessels.
The worst disaster was in February 1993 when the ferry Neptune sank about 50 miles west of Port-au-Prince with up to 1,500 people on board. The death toll was put at between 500 and 700. Two years ago 100 drowned in another incident.
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery rumours: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
FCKH8: YouTube reinstates provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing
Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...