NASSAU, The Bahamas, Monday February 4, 2019 – At least 28 Haitian migrants drowned in the waters off the northern Bahamian island of Abaco when the vessel they were travelling in capsized and sunk over the weekend.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) said 17 survivors were rescued.
The discovery of the first set of bodies was made by tourists on a chartered catamaran, in waters near Man O War Cay at the entrance of Marsh Harbour, central Abaco, on Saturday morning. An operation by Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) divers aboard HMBS Durward Knowles, along with a local diver, found more bodies in the shipwreck on the seabed in reef-filled waters near Fowl Cay.
The vessel had reportedly struck a reef.
It’s uncertain how many Haitians were on the boat. The Department of Immigration had said 87 people were on the vessel, but the Tribune newspaper reported that volunteers said multiple survivors told them there were 45 people on board. A total of 28 bodies were recovered between Saturday and yesterday.
Hope Town’s fire chief, Troy Pritchard, who was among the first to respond to the scene with a team of six from the Hope Town Volunteer Fire and Rescue, told the Nassau Guardian the scene was “simply heart-breaking”.
He said the survivors were hesitant to come to the rescue boat.
“I got the stern of our rescue boat into about two feet of water and I pleaded with them to come. They were very reluctant to come and their feet were all cut up, so we threw them a pair of boots and they made their way to the water line and we got them in the boat that way,” Pritchard told the newspaper.
“They were very dehydrated, cut up, naked, disoriented. They were in rough shape.”
The rescued Haitians were transported to the clinic in Marsh Harbour for evaluation, and handed over to Immigration and police officials for further investigation.
So far this year, approximately 300 Haitians have been apprehended by the RBDF for illegal entry during four separate incidents. Those Haitian nationals have all been charged before the courts and ordered repatriated to Haiti.
Illegal attempts by Haitians to get to the Bahamas or nearby Turks and Caicos are common. Following the weekend tragedy, the US Embassy in Haiti warned Haitians of the threat that smuggling operations pose.
“No journey is worth risking lives. Please urge families and communities: Illegal migrant and smuggling operations are dangerous and frequently end in tragedy,” the Embassy tweeted.