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#3382: 14 Haitians die as boat wrecks in Bahamas (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Published Friday, April 28, 2000, in the Miami Herald
14 Haitians die as boat wrecks in Bahamas
U.S. Coast Guard officials said Thursday at least 14 Haitians had died after
their overloaded boat with about 300 people aboard ran aground on a remote,
uninhabited island in the southern Bahamas.
The latest incident brought to more than 600 the number of Haitian boat
people detained in the Bahamas within the past week. On Saturday, a boat
carrying some 200 Haitians ran aground on Harbor Island in the Eleuthera
Chain. On Tuesday, another 124 would-be refugees were rescued after their
vessel started to sink near Great Inagua.
Even as preparations were being made Thursday to take the latest refugees
from Flamingo Cay to Nassau, two repatriation flights were returning 323
Haitians to Haiti.
The upsurge in refugees comes at a time of growing political instability and
violence as Haiti prepares for long-delayed May 21 parliamentary elections.
It also comes at a time the Haitian economy is in its worst shape since an
international embargo was lifted after the 1994 U.S.-led invasion ousted a
military regime.
``This is the largest [number] in a while,'' Bahamas Immigration Director
Vernon Burrows said. ``Traditionally [Haitian boat people] always seem to
come around Christmas and Easter. Every time you get a vessel with 200 or
more, that's getting kind of scary.''
While it was still unknown Thursday where the ship had sailed from, most of
the larger boatloads of refugees have left from Port-de-Paix, on Haiti's
northwest peninsula, or the island of La Tortue, off the northwest coast.
Jean Berson, 20, one of the survivors evacuated to Nassau, told the Nassau
Tribune on Thursday through an interpreter that the boat had left from St.
Louis du Nord, also on Haiti's north coast, and that those aboard were
fleeing political turmoil.
The Coast Guard said it had been advised of the latest boatload of Haitian
refugees Wednesday evening by the Magic, one of three sailboats anchored off
Flamingo Cay. One of the crewmen aboard the sailboats was a doctor who
treated some of the most severely ill Haitians.
One of the survivors said through an interpreter that several more migrants
died Wednesday when they were thrown from the boat in stormy seas.
At least 31 of the migrants suffering from severe hypothermia and
dehydration were evacuated by helicopter to Nassau or George Town, on Exuma
island, for medical treatment late Wednesday, after their plight became
known. Some were also suffering from kidney failure. At least seven children
under the age of 12 were among those helicoptered to Great Exuma, according
to Bahamian officials.
It was expected that the remaining refugees would be brought to Nassau today
and placed in a makeshift detention center in Fox Hill prison to await
Anthony Williams, immigration officer in charge in Exuma island, said
Thursday the 17 medically evacuated there Wednesday night were ``in much
better shape today. They're doing pretty good. There are no major injuries.
They're just suffering from dehydration and fatigue.''
Williams said that, based on his information, the boat left Haiti last week,
had engine problems three days into the trip and ``lingered at sea with food
and water rationing.''
There were conflicting reports on the number aboard the 50-foot ship that
ran aground on Flamingo Cay on Wednesday, with initial figures running as
high as 500.
Petty Officer Scott Carr, a Coast Guard spokesman, said that after the 31
were evacuated Wednesday night, 264 Haitians, including the 14 who had died,
remained on Flamingo Cay when a Coast Guard cutter arrived at midday
There were also conflicting accounts of how long the vessel had been at sea,
with Bahamian officials saying it had departed Haiti last Friday while the
Coast Guard said passengers reported it had been at sea 11 days.
Meanwhile, the Bahamas Defense Force on Thursday sent emergency food and
other supplies to the Haitians still stranded on the island.
For the Bahamas, said Burrows, the immigration director, the Haitian refugee
exodus has put a severe strain on its resources.
``Our resources in terms of manpower, our resources in terms of money, our
resources in terms of equipment, everything you can imagine, we are
stretched to the maximum,'' he said.
So far this year, Burrows said, about 1,600 Haitians had been repatriated,
including 700 boat people. The remainder were detained in an ongoing roundup
of Haitians illegally in the Bahamas.
Unofficial estimates have put the illegal Haitian population in the Bahamas
between 20,000 and 40,000.
Meanwhile, 15 Haitians who managed to reach Florida were in Krome detention
center Thursday.
U.S. Customs intercepted a speedboat that put ashore 11 men and four women
on Key Biscayne late Wednesday. The Border Patrol was holding two men, a
Haitian and a Bahamian, suspected of smuggling the group from Bimini.
``We learned that each person paid $4,000 for the trip,'' Border Patrol
spokesman Joseph Mellia said.
Special correspondent Athena Damianos in the Bahamas and Herald writer
Mireidy Fernandez contributed to this report.