Total body count stands at 30; capsized vessel was carrying 83 persons
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The death toll of Haitian migrants who perished when their boat capsized last weekend continues to rise after another body believed to be that of a Haitian national was retrieved from waters in Abaco on Wednesday.
A statement released yesterday from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) outlined that the body was discovered near Man O’ War Cay on Wednesday afternoon by local boaters who were assisting in search and recovery efforts.
The boating tragedy is believed to have occurred sometime before dawn last Saturday, February 2, when the Haitian vessel sank after hitting a reef off Fowl Cay near Man-o-War Cay, Abaco.
The sunken vessel was later spotted by a United States (US) Coast Guard helicopter.
The RBDF, in conjunction with local authorities, initially discovered 13 bodies on Saturday night.
Fourteen bodies were later recovered from the sunken sloop early Sunday morning.
On Tuesday, the RBDF reported the discovery of an additional two bodies.
Wednesday’s discovery brought the total count of bodies to 30, the RBDF said.
The RBDF said search efforts are ongoing as authorities continue their investigations into this tragic incident.
A statement released Wednesday from Director of NEMA, Capt. Stephen Russell outlined that according to police reports, a vessel carrying approximately 83 persons: 76 males and seven females had capsized near the Ab Cays.
“There were no children. All of the persons on board the boat were Haitian nationals,” Russell’s statement read. “So far, only 18 persons survived the ill-fated journey. These individuals have been turned over to the appropriate authorities for processing.”
Russell said the deceased was placed at the Abaco health facility in Marsh Harbour and on the ground were coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez along with her team of pathologists, Dr. Caryn Sands and Dr. Kiko Bridgewater.
“At 2:00 p.m. on February 4, 2019, the upper court set up as a place for persons within the Haitian community to visit and possibly identify the deceased. I am advised that no bodies will be released until the deceased persons are identified and embalmed,” the statement read.
Russell said the team including immigration and police officers, the coroner, First Secretary Karl Henri Chatelier of the Haitian Embassy in The Bahamas, along with local representatives from the Haitian community met on February 4, 2019, to hear concerns and to share the way forward.
Russell said it is believed that the tragedy occurred as a result of engine problems and the vessel ended up in the cays of Abaco.
“We are saddened by this terrible loss. We know that an incident of this kind has happened before in Abaco. But it was never to this magnitude where so many lives were lost,” Russell said.
Minister of National Security Marvin Dames told the press outside parliament yesterday that the government has been dealing with the illegal migrant issue for decades because of poor economic conditions in Haiti. However, he credited the efforts of the RBDF, the Department of Immigration and the police in this latest tragedy.
“During the last incident in Abaco, the residents of Abaco themselves worked side-by-side with our law enforcement authorities to ensure that persons were rescued and bodies were recovered, so this was a clear demonstration of how the people of this nation responds in times of crisis; all involved are to be commended.”
Meanwhile, Dames referred to the smuggling and trafficking of human beings as “grotesque”.
“These are just greedy individuals who care about nothing more than to put a few more dollars in their pockets.”
Earlier this week Director of Immigration Mr. Clarence A. Russell said if persons are found culpable in planning the tragic voyage which led to the death of 27 Haitians over the weekend, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.