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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Reimagined: Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette in the film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma
books
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
Cannes 2015Dheepan, film review
Sport
sport
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine