Hundreds drowned in Haiti disaster

IN ONE of the worst sea disasters in recent history, many hundreds, and possibly as many as 1,800 Haitians are feared drowned after an overloaded passenger ferry bound for the capital, Port-au-Prince, capsized and sank in a storm off southern Haiti early on Wednesday.

So poor are communications in the region that no word of the disaster reached Port-au-Prince until yesterday. The first clue to the sinking came as bodies were washed up on beaches and survivors - some 285 thus far - swam ashore some 60 miles to the west of the capital.

As the carcasses of drowned cattle floated to the surface, some shipwrecked passengers used them as rafts, while others clung to bags of coconuts that floated off the ship, survivors said.

According to Haitian port authority officials, 800 tickets for the rickety ferry Neptune had been sold before it left the agricultural centre of Jeremie loaded with peasants and poor farmers carrying fruit, farm animals and other produce to sell in Port-au-Prince.

But the boat's captain, who managed to swim to safety along with a group of 60 other passengers, told a Haitian radio station that 1,500 people were packed on board the 150-ft Neptune, invariably jammed to overflowing when it made its regular 180-mile run along the northern coast of Haiti's southern peninsula. Other reports suggested that as many as 2,000 were on board.

'We may never know exactly how many there were on the ferry,' said Commander Larry Mizell of the US Coast Guard in Miami, which keeps close watch on boat traffic around Haiti. 'These boats don't keep passenger lists and they just cram on as many people as they can to make money.'

By a cruel stroke, this latest calamity to overtake the blighted and impoverished Caribbean country had nothing to do with the attempts of Haitians to make the perilous 600-mile journey by sea to the US, an unknown number of whom have died in shipwrecks.

Indeed, all ferry traffic along Haiti's coasts had been halted for a week in December for fear that would-be refugees would hijack the vessels and divert them to Florida. But normal traffic resumed after Bill Clinton went back on campaign pledges and made clear that he would continue George Bush's tough policy of repatriating refugees, for screening on Haiti itself.

According to survivors, the disaster came about when many of those on board panicked as the triple-decked Neptune began to roll in the rain and heavy winds of the storm. At that point the ferry's top deck simply caved in, causing the ship to sink.

Yesterday two Haitian navy ships were scouring nearby waters for further survivors, while the US Coast Guard dispatched helicopters, a small jet and two patrol vessels to aid the search. Commander Mizell said last night that there was no sign of the vessel, 'and there's no sign of any other survivors'.

Relatives of those on board were journeying yesterday to the coastal site of the sinking to wait for news of their loved ones. Destina Momrosier, a seamstress in Port-au-Prince, said her brother, a construction worker, Emmanuel Erelien, and a cousin were on board the Neptune when it left for the capital late on Tuesday from Jeremie, 180 miles to the west. Ms Momrosier, a native of Jeremie, said she had taken the boat several times, usually with 500 to 600 other passengers, but she said as many as 1,500 could probably fit aboard.

If the figures circulating are correct, this would be the most deadly ferry accident in the world since December 1987, when a ferry collided with a tanker in the Philippines, and 1,749 passengers drowned.

MIAMI - An armed man who hijacked a DC-3 in Haiti yesterday and ordered the pilot to fly to Miami surrendered shortly after the plane landed in the US, AFP reports.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones