Rescuers in the Bahamas have found the bodies of 17 Haitian migrants who are believed to have died after their ship capsized in rough seas during a “suspected human smuggling operation”, the country’s leader said.
The bodies of 15 women, a man and a baby were found in the water after the Royal Bahamas Police and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force responded to reports of a boating incident seven miles offshore of New Providence just after 1 a.m. Sunday, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas. Philip Davis said in a statement.
Twenty-five people were rescued and handed over to health authorities for care, but other people are believed to be missing, with search and recovery operations continuing, Davis said.
‘Preliminary inquiries suggest a twin-engine speedboat left a mooring facility off West Bay Street at around 1am with approximately 60 people on board. Their final destination is believed to have been Miami, Florida,” the prime minister said.
“Law enforcement officials will update you on the criminal case as well as other rescue and recovery efforts. However, I would like to convey the condolences of my government and the people of the Bahamas to the families of those who lost life in this tragedy,” the prime minister said.
Davis said his government has always warned against dangerous travel and has increased surveillance on land and sea and stepped up patrols.
“We take this opportunity to strongly condemn the organization of smuggling operations that endanger human lives and compromise our national security. Those involved will face prosecution,” he said. “I understand the situation that many of these migrants face and that would encourage them to take such great risks. However, we urge those who are considering making such a trip not to do so.
Bahamas Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander told reporters on Sunday that around 50 to 60 people were believed to have been on the 20ft speedboat and that a search for survivors or bodies was underway.
He said two Bahamian men were among the survivors being questioned in police custody. The men were known to police “for various offences”, he said.
Immigration Minister Keith Bell said 20 people had been taken to a detention center and were being questioned.
“These people indicated that they would have paid between $3,000 and $8,000 for that fateful trip,” Bell said.
Haiti has suffered from violent instability for years. After the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse last July, his successor, Ariel Henry, promised to improve security. Nonetheless, kidnappings and gang violence continue to plague the Caribbean nation.
Haiti has been in turmoil for years, but the violence has escalated dramatically since the assassination of Moïse. His killing was followed in August by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands.
In addition to the security situation and political crisis, Haiti also suffers from high levels of inflation and food insecurity. The World Food Program estimates that 1.3 million Haitians are at risk of severe hunger.