MIAMI: Seventeen Haitian suspected illegal migrants died on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) when their boat capsized off the Turks and Caicos islands near the Caribbean, authorities said.
The incident occurred in the early hours of Christmas Day as the boat, which had been intercepted by police, was “being towed into dock” at Providenciales, the government of the British territory said in a statement.
The toll was one fewer than first reported and thirty-three people were rescued and taken to an immigration detention center, police commissioner Colin Farquhar said, adding “no further casualties are anticipated.”
“The search for casualties has been called off for today due to poor light” and rough seas, he explained. A US Coast Guard helicopter earlier had been scrambled to help.
“A scaled down search will begin again tomorrow.”
The survivors “consisted of 21 males, including one child, and 12 females. These people will be repatriated to Haiti at the earliest opportunity,” he said. No time frame was immediately given.
“The stricken vessel has now been removed from the water and will be central to our ongoing investigations into this matter,” Farquhar added, stressing: “We must all remain vigilant to combat illegal migration.”
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said, “we regret the loss of life. The emergency response is being led by the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force.
The Governor in the Turks and Caicos Islands is keeping us informed of developments.”
The British-dependent island chain is located about 240 kilometers north of Haiti.
Haiti was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere before a 2010 earthquake, which left 250,000 dead and set the island nation’s limping economy back still further.
Migrants from Haiti often undertake perilous journeys aboard precarious and often overcrowded boats headed for the Bahamas or the United States.