Bahamas seeks talks with Haiti after deadly migrant voyage

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2013 12:51 PM
Bahamas seeks talks with Haiti after deadly migrant voyage

By Neil Hartnell

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) - The Bahamas government on Wednesday called for urgent talks with Haiti and other nations in a bid to discourage illegal migrant voyages like the one this week that ended with 30 Haitians believed to have died when their boat capsized.

"This is a human tragedy," Bahamas Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell said.

"The government is seeking to hold urgent talks with all the surrounding stakeholders and governments within the next few days with a view again to taking additional measures to discourage the smuggling of human beings through Bahamian waters."

About 30 Haitian migrants are believed to have died when their overcrowded wooden sailboat ran aground in the Atlantic Ocean and capsized on Monday night near Staniel Cay, part of the Exuma group of islands in the central Bahamas.

U.S. and Bahamian crews rescued 110 survivors on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. Scores of passengers stood or sat on the hull of the 40-foot (12-metre) sailboat that lay on its side. Others climbed the mast or made it into life rafts dropped to them from Coast Guard planes and helicopters.

The latest rescue occurred shortly after the search for survivors resumed at daybreak on Wednesday, said Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami.

"The survivor found a piece of driftwood and pretty much clinged to it until he got to a small island where he was able to flag down the U.S. Coast Guard flying overhead," Rios said. "The helicopter landed on the island, picked him up and took him to safety."

A Royal Bahamas Defense Force patrol boat took the survivors ashore in Nassau. Many were receiving medical treatment, Rios said. Six bodies were recovered, he said.

The Bahamian government was investigating the accident and will decide whether to repatriate the survivors.

"In the mean time, we again urge people not to take the risky journeys on the high seas, which too often lead to the loss of life and the tragedy that occurred in the Exuma Cays," Mitchell said.

"We will seek to take additional measures to seek to prosecute those who are responsible for these illegal journeys."

The capsized vessel was presumed to be headed to the United States and had been at sea for about nine days before the accident. News reports said the passengers had run out of food and water several days before the ship ran aground.

It was unclear how many people had been aboard the vessel, which had no life jackets or other safety equipment. The estimated death toll was based on interviews with those rescued.

Rios said another Haitian boat had been sighted in the Bahamas near Ragged Island about 90 miles south of the shipwreck site and was not in peril.

The Bahamas chain of 700 islands and cays stretches from just north of Haiti to near the southeast Florida coast and is frequently transited by migrant vessels.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it has interdicted 346 Haitian migrants at sea in the past two months. The total for the whole year ended September 30 was 508, the smallest number from Haiti in 15 years.

The Miami Herald said Bahamian officials had received or intercepted 1,550 Haitian migrants in the Bahamas this year, surpassing last year's total of 1,477.

(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Philip Barbara and Bob Burgdorfer)