Boat carrying Haitian migrants capsizes

July 28, 2009 4:52:32 AM PDT
A boat carrying Haitian migrants capsized and sank off the Turks and Caicos Islands and up to 85 people are missing, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday. One survivor said the boat struck a reef as it tried to elude police. Rescuers found 113 survivors stranded on two reefs and recovered two bodies, said Lt. Cmdr. Matt Moorlag, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami, revising an earlier statement that four bodies had been found.

"Our main goal right now is just to get everybody out of the water and get medical attention for those who need it," said Petty Officer Third Class Sabrina Elgammal, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

The shipwreck happened around 2 p.m. Monday. By late evening, Turks and Caicos authorities using small boats had rescued about 40 people stranded on a reef 2 miles (3 kilometers) southeast of West Caicos island. Many others were later found on a nearby reef, Moorlag said.

The boat carrying up to 200 Haitians 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 survivors 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 north of Haiti and southeast of the Bahamas. She said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

A Coast Guard cutter has been searching through the night for survivors, and Moorlag said a helicopter and a jet will join the search at first light. He said a C-130 aircraft was expected Tuesday morning to help in the search.

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 mainly Haitian migrants capsized off Florida's coast, killing at least nine people, including a pregnant woman.

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