Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Haitian migrants' boat capsizes in shark-infested sea

AFP , MIAMI

At least 22 people died and dozens more were missing after a sailboat packed with Haitian migrants capsized on Friday in shark-infested waters while being towed by a police boat, the US Coast Guard reported.

Several of the bodies reportedly appeared to have been chewed up by sharks.

"Those are the reports provided by Turks and Caicos police," who were towing the boat, US Coast Guard (USCG) spokesman Luis Diaz said.

The USCG initially assisted police in the British overseas territory in the search for about 56 Haitians reported missing, but was eventually told its help was no longer needed, Diaz said.

A total of 73 people were rescued and 22 bodies were spotted after the boat capsized early on Friday about 800m off Providenciales, one of the Turks and Caicos islands. The USCG said the vessel capsized as it was being towed ashore.

The ill-fated boat, which measured between 7.5m and 9m was apparently headed for the US, 900km away, with some 150 people aboard.

Every year, hundreds of Haitians fleeing their impoverished and violence-torn nation in search of a better life make the illegal sea voyage, often on overcrowded boats.

Since 2001, approximately 400 people have been reported dead or missing at sea as they sought to travel from Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic to the US.

In March, a USCG crew recovered five bodies after a sailing freighter with 56 Haitians aboard caught fire and capsized off the Dominican Republic.

Since January, 909 Haitians have been intercepted by the Coast Guard as they tried to make their way illegally to the US.

On Friday, a Coast Guard vessel repatriated 195 migrants to Cap Haitien, Haiti, and the previous day, 60 Cubans were dropped off at Bahia de Cabanas, Cuba, the USCG said.

"We will continue to aggressively patrol to interdict undocumented migrants at sea, to halt migrant smuggling and to rescue migrants from unseaworthy or grossly overloaded vessels as well as the other perils that often befall them on these ill-advised and inherently dangerous journeys," USCG Lieutenant Commander Chris O'Neil said.

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