Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vessel carrying as many as 200 Haitians capsizes

Vessel carrying as many as 200 Haitians capsizes

By Vivian Tyson, Associated Press Writer

28 July 2009

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos – A vessel carrying as many as 200 Haitian migrants capsized and sank near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said. One survivor said the boat struck a reef as they tried to elude police.

About 70 passengers were stranded on a reef and four bodies were recovered, said Petty Officer Third Class Sabrina Elgammal, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Miami. The rest of the passengers were missing and feared dead.

"Our main goal right now is just to get everybody out of the water and get medical attention for those who need it," Elgammal said.

The shipwreck happened around 2 p.m. Monday and by late evening Turks and Caicos authorities using small boats had rescued about 40 of the people stranded on the reef, located 2 miles (3 kilometers) southeast of West Caicos island. The Coast Guard and island authorities were evacuating the others, according to a Coast Guard statement.

The boat had been at sea for three days when passengers saw a police vessel and accidentally steered the boat onto a reef as they tried to hide, survivor Alces Julien told The Associated Press at a hospital were some of the rescued were receiving treatment.

Elgammal said information from survivors indicates that between 160 and 200 people were on board when the vessel capsized near this island chain southeast of the Bahamas. She said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

Two Coast Guard helicopters were on the scene and a cutter was en route to join the search for survivors.

Haitians routinely take to the seas in rickety, overcrowded boats in hopes of escaping poverty in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

In May 2007, an overcrowded sloop carrying more than 160 migrants capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands. Some of the victims were eaten by sharks. The 78 people who survived accused a Turks and Caicos patrol boat of ramming their vessel as they approached shore and towing them into deeper water.

In May, a boat carrying at about 30 undocumented mainly Haitian migrants capsized off Florida's coast, killing at least nine people, including a pregnant woman.


Associated Press writer Mike Melia contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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