NASSAU, Bahamas, Friday June 15, 2012 — Hopes of finding survivors are fading fast after an overloaded boat packed with Haitian migrants capsized in rough seas, killing at least 11 people and leaving about 12 others missing.
The “Glory Time”, bound for Florida, capsized after its engines failed and it began taking on water off the northern Bahamian island of Abaco late Sunday, authorities and a handful of survivors said.
Among those missing are women and several children. Eleven bodies have been recovered.
Bahamian authorities were trying to determine if one of the men who swam to safety was the organizer of the ill-fated human smuggling venture, said Assistant Superintendent Loretta Mackey of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
One survivor, a man of Bahamian-Haitian descent, told authorities that the boat’s engines kept cutting out, according to Bahamas National Security Minister Bernard Nottage.
“He reported that the seas were very rough, and the vessel began to take on water,” Nottage said. “The vessel eventually capsized, and everyone began to scramble to save their lives. He reported that he did his best to save other persons, but the sea was too rough, so he had to save his own life.”
The minister said that the man told police he believed that nine children, five young women and 14 men were on board. The survivor added that he remembered seeing six other survivors, who vanished once they reached land.
Police have arrested eight people in Cooper’s Town for questioning because they believe they were somehow involved, Nottage said.
Initial police reports indicated that seven people had made it back to shore, but Mackey later said only five could be confirmed. The Coast Guard reported that four had survived.
This kind of confusion is typical following accidents involving migrant boats because passengers rarely know each other and often try to avoid being caught so they can make another attempt to reach their destination. The exact death toll may never be known and the boat captain will often try to blend in with survivors to avoid arrest, according to Chris Lloyd, operations manager for the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association, which assisted in the search along with other teams from the Bahamas and the United States.
Also typical, Lloyd noted, is a lack of life jackets or other safety equipment and a poorly maintained and overloaded vessel.
“I don’t know that it is a search any more rather than a recovery,” he said earlier this week. “Those who were going to survive, survived, I’m afraid.”
Abaco has a population of about 13,000 including several hundred Haitians and people of Haitian descent living in a couple of shantytowns known as “Pigeon Pea” and “The Mud.”
The Haitian ambassador to the Bahamas, Antonio Rodrigue, said passengers on the vessel were likely from outside the island and paid around $5,000 each to be smuggled to the United States.