The Cuban military searched for survivors yesterday after at least 38 Haitian migrants died as a boat in which they fled their country started taking in water and became stranded at sea.
The gruesome discovery was made on Saturday when the Cuban Coast Guard found the half-sunken boat about 100m off Point Maisi on the eastern shore of the island, the Cuban government said.
A statement from the Cuban civil defense agency read on state television said the dead included 21 men and 17 women. Another 87 people, including four children and seven women, were rescued and moved to an international migrants’ camp at Point Maisi, where they have been given assistance, the statement said.
The agency did not elaborate on the cause of the shipwreck, but rusty, decrepit and overcrowded boats carrying migrants from Haiti are often found in distress in the Caribbean Sea.
A similar tragedy occurred in July 2009 off the coast of Turks and Caicos Islands when a boat carrying dozens of Haitian migrants capsized and sank, forcing its passengers to jump overboard. The US Coast Guard managed to rescue 118 of the migrants, but at least 15 were found dead and about 70 others remained missing.
In 2007, a boat with at least 160 Haitians sank in the Caribbean Sea, leaving 82 passengers dead. Some of the victims were eaten by sharks swarming the warm waters in the area, survivors said.
Cuban officials said the coast guard and Red Cross continued searching for for more survivors around Point Maisi.
Under Cuban immigration procedures, migrants from Haiti who reach the island’s coast are usually given food and medical assistance before being sent back home.
Thousands of Haitian boat people have also been arriving in the US since the early 1970s and settling in Miami. However, in 1981, Washington and Port-au-Prince reached an agreement under which boats with Haitian migrants are interdicted at sea and their passengers returned to Haiti.