27 bodies recovered, 18 rescued after vessel sinks off Abaco
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) will resume dive operations today, after a total of 27 bodies were recovered from waters over the weekend after a Haitian vessel capsized off the coast of mainland Abaco on Saturday.
A total of 18 Haitian migrants were also rescued alive on Fowl Cay and Man-O-War Cay, according to a statement released Sunday by the RBDF.
The boating tragedy is believed to have occurred sometime before dawn on Saturday when the Haitian vessel sank after hitting a reef, the RBDF said, adding that the sunken vessel was later spotted by a US Coast Guard helicopter.
The RBDF statement outlined that 15 Haitian nationals were rescued on a cay off Abaco on Saturday and initially, 13 lifeless bodies were retrieved from nearby waters during a joint effort consisting of local authorities, police, immigration, defence force and boat operators.
“Eight of the lifeless bodies were recovered from a sunken vessel that was spotted near Fowl Cay, 6 nautical miles off the coast of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, by a US Coast Guard aircraft.
“Crewmembers aboard HMBS Durward Knowles subsequently conducted a dive operation along with a local diver and recovered the bodies from the vessel yesterday [on Saturday] afternoon,” the RBDF statement read.
The RBDF further outlined that it resumed its dive operation on Sunday with the assistance of local authorities and dive operators; and as a result, divers found an additional 15 bodies in the sunken vessel.
“Thus far, a total of 18 persons have been rescued alive and 27 bodies have been recovered from the water,” the RBDF reported in its latest statement released Sunday.
An additional two Haitian nationals were also found alive on Sunday, on a nearby cay, the RBDF reported.
The rescued migrants were transported to the clinic in Marsh Harbour, Abaco for evaluation and handed over to immigration and police officials for further investigation.
A release from the Department of Immigration outlined that one of the rescued migrants was transported to New Providence onboard an emergency flight due to life-threatening injuries.
RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel on Sunday thanked the United States Coast Guard as well as local authorities and members of the community; in particular the police force and immigration department; Captain George Philpot (a Police Reservist) of the Hope Town Fire and Rescue Services; Michael Shereet of Dive Time Co. Ltd; Mr. David Knowles (Park Warden) and numerous good Samaritans for their outstanding assistance during this tragic incident.
Police and immigration officials are said to be continuing their investigations into this tragic incident and a special inquiry into the deaths is expected to take place on Abaco this week, according to Bahamas Immigration.
“Director of Immigration, Mr. Clarence A. Russell along with a team including a Public Relations Press Officer Braddesha Lloyd is expected to travel to Abaco tomorrow for further investigations and to lend support and encourage the Abaco team,” the statement concluded.
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti, in a tweet around 1 p.m. on Sunday referred to the deaths as another tragic loss of life.
“No journey is worth risking lives,” the Embassy tweeted. “Please urge families and communities [that] illegal migrant and smuggling operations are dangerous and frequently end in tragedy.”