Boat carrying 20 dead bodies found drifting off Turks and Caicos islands

British overseas territory is known to be a midpoint in the Caribbean for people smugglers taking migrants to US

Celine Wadhera
Monday 28 June 2021 11:55
<p>A boat drifting in the Caribbean Sea, near Grand Turk Island</p>

A boat drifting in the Caribbean Sea, near Grand Turk Island

A boat drifting carrying 20 dead people, including two children, has been found drifting off the coast of Turks and Caicos.

The vessel was discovered by fishermen one mile off the coast of Grand Turk island last Thursday. The fishermen alerted the marine branch of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, which towed the boat ashore.

Police said they had ruled out foul play and was investigating the circumstances of deaths and how the boat came to be in Turks and Caicos waters.

Investigators are also trying to establish the identities of those on board.

In a statement, the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force said: “Whilst the deaths are unexplained, there is no indication of foul play, and investigators are keeping an open mind as to how these people met their deaths.”

Police Commissioner Trevor Botting said that the boat likely came from outside of the Caribbean, adding that the islands were not thought to be its final destination.

He said: “It is believed that the boat originates from outside of the Caribbean region and that neither the Turks and Caicos Islands nor the region was their intended destination.”

Turks and Caicos, which is British Overseas Territory, has been known to be a midpoint for human smuggling boats travelling from from Haiti, Sri Lanka, and India to the US.

In June 2020, Sri Lanka-born Canadian citizen Srikajamukam Chelliah pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges in Turks and Caicos and was sentenced to 14 months in prison for conspiring to smuggle undocumented immigrants from Sri Lanka into the US.

Mr Botting said: “Whatever the circumstances, this is a tragic situation where many people have lost their lives, and the thoughts and prayers of the force go out to those families who have lost a loved one. We will do all we can to identify them and contact their families.”

He also thanked the policing team and health agencies who responded to the scene, calling the deaths a “human tragedy and a very distressing scene”.

In a tweet, he said that his officers dealt with the situation “professionally and with great dignity and humanity”.

Last week’s discovery in Turks and Caicos comes after 14 bodies were found dead on a fishing boat off the coast of Tobago in late May. Local authorities confirmed that the vessel had been stolen from Mauritania, Africa.

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