Haitian migrants drown and many more still missing

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Haitian shipwreck occurring Sunday night or Monday afternoon took the lives of at least 15 poverty stricken migrants seeking America when waves tore the handmade wooden sailboat to shreds on the coral reefs off the Turks and Caicos Islands. Of the 200 on the overloaded vessel, about 70 are still missing and 122 have been rescued.

The ship capsized near the Turks and Caicos Islands
Image: Raimond Spekking.

"The boat ran aground on a reef, Molasses Reef, off West Caicos. We have a total of 15 dead bodies now. They are illegal immigrants," said Calvin Chase, Turks and Caicos police Sergeant.

Haitian survivors reported that after they had been sailing about three days they had spotted police boats in the area and turned towards the dangerous reefs.

The U.S. Coast Guard were alerted Monday to the situation and offered aircraft and ships to supplement Turks and Caicos search and rescue personnel.

The injured are being treated in Caribbean hospitals. The rescue operation was hampered by 23 mph winds and sea waves cresting up to 6 feet (2 m) high.

The survivors will be repatriated back to Haiti.

Last week over 100 Haitian migrants were rescued from an overloaded ship near the same area and repatriated to Haiti, and in May a capsized boat killed as many as nine illegal immigrants.

"Unfortunately many people lose their lives trying to reach the United States illegally, anywhere of 100 or more per year. They don't have enough life-saving gear or signaling gear to ensure that they are able to survive if they do have any problems at sea," said Lt Cdr Matthew Moorlag of the US Coast Guard.

Haitian families will spend their savings to pay brokers up to $500 for a spot on these overcrowded boats. The illegal immigrants often traveling with little food and water hope for employment in the United States, the Bahamas or in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In May of 2007 a similar tragedy occurred when an overcrowded people smuggling ship capsized carrying 160 aboard. Survivors reported fellow passengers being eaten by sharks.


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