17 died in the Bahamas after a boat believed to be carrying Haitian migrants capsized
At least 17 people have died after a boat capsized shortly after midnight on Sunday in the Bahamas. Authorities said the boat was likely transporting Haitian migrants during a suspected human smuggling operation bound for the United States.
An investigation into the incident is still underway, but authorities said during a press conference that between 50 and 60 people were in the boat when it capsized approximately 7 miles off the coast of New Providence island.
Officials recovered the bodies of 16 females, including a child believed to be 4 or 5 years old, and one male. Authorities said they were able to rescue 25 people from the water. Between eight to 12 people are believed to be missing.
Three individuals who were rescued are still being treated at a local hospital after the near-drowning incident, according to Bahamian Acting Minister of Health Ryan Pinder, who also serves as the attorney general.
Bahamas Prime Minister Phillip Davis told reporters that the preliminary investigation suggests two Bahamian citizens were attempting to smuggle Haitian refugees into Miami, Fla.
"What happened this morning was not an entry to the Bahamas, but rather an exit from the Bahamas, with emigrants who were already here," Davis said. "How they got here, we're not quite sure, as the investigation is still continuing."
Two Bahamian citizens involved in the incident are in custody, officials said.
Members of the Royal Bahamas Police and Royal Bahamas Defence Force responded to reports of a capsized vessel shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, Deputy Commander Capt. Shonedel Pinder said, which likely faced "formidable weather conditions."
Pinder told reporters that defense patrols and surveillance efforts have increased in recent months. As a result, there hasn't been a successful illegal landing in the Bahamas in several months, he said, which should dissuade human smugglers from future operations.
Immigration officers and Royal Bahamas police officers detained five Haitian nationals last week after responding to reports of an illegal beach landing on the west side of Nassau. According to an immigration department news release, the individuals were involved with an attempted human smuggling operation.
The Bahamas Department of Immigration has intercepted at least 830 Haitian migrants since the beginning of the year, according to numbers noted in news releases dating back to January. The perilous journeys have become more frequent as Haitians flee ongoing political instability, gang violence and poverty in their home country.
Bahamas Minister of Labour and Immigration Keith Bell urged citizens to deter others from attempting the journey in response to the recent tragedy at sea.
"We mourn lives lost of those seeking a better way of life," Bell told Reuters. "Those here with families and friends in Haiti, encourage your loved ones not to risk their lives."
Although there has been an increase of vessels carrying migrants in recent months, Davis said, the Bahamas is almost always not their final destination. More often than not, the islands are a midpoint for those fleeing Haiti for the United States, he said.
Just last month, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued nearly 100 Haitian men, women and children aboard an immobile stranded vessel off the coast of Florida. The vessel was found approximately 40 miles southeast of Islamorada in the Florida Keys, a Coast Guard news release said. Over 6,000 Haitian migrants were intercepted by Coast Guard crews between October 2021 and June 2022.
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