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7366: At Least 30 Dead in Two Caribbean Shipwrecks (fwd)
Friday, March 16, 2001
At Least 30 Dead in Two Caribbean Shipwrecks
MIAMI (Reuters) - At least 30 people, many of them from the
Dominican Republic, died and more than 60 were missing after two
boats thought to be carrying illegal migrants sank in separate
incidents in the Caribbean, officials from countries in the
region said on Friday.
The double tragedy -- the wrecks occurred off Haiti and the
small island of St. Martin -- highlighted the grim toll from a
constant trickle of migrants in the Caribbean who try to seek a
better life by setting out for more prosperous countries in often
overcrowded and small vessels.
Officials in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, said that more
than 15 people from neighboring Dominican Republic died and more
than 40 were missing and feared dead after their boat sank off a
small island near the southwest of Haiti.
"There were more than 15 bodies found," said Yolaine Surena,
director of Haiti's Civil Protection office. "The boat sank while
they were on their way to Puerto Rico."
Two people survived and one of them, 19-year-old Carlos Pinales,
told officials that the vessel Les Canotes, with about 60 people
on board, was lost at sea for 24 days after its engine had broken
It drifted and eventually sank off the island of Ile-a-Vache,
three miles south of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola
with the Dominican Republic. Such a course would mean the vessel
ended up in exactly the opposite direction -- west and not east
of their country -- from the one the passengers wanted to go.
"We don't expect to find any more survivors," said Surena, but
added that a search by Haitian rescue crews would halt at
nightfall on Friday and resume on Saturday.
Further east in the Caribbean, rescue crews searched for as many
as 20 passengers, possibly illegal migrants, missing in another
shipwreck that killed at least 15 people, the U.S. Coast Guard
Fishermen rescued two men, thought to be from the Dominican
Republic or Puerto Rico, after the 40-foot motorized vessel
Esperanza sank on Thursday off St. Martin. The survivors said as
many as 40 people had been aboard.
A Dutch Coast Guard vessel also rescued two Puerto Ricans who
were members of the crew and handed them over to French
authorities. The pair were now in French police custody, said a
government official in the French Caribbean island of Martinique,
which was coordinating the search.
FIFTEEN BODIES RECOVERED
At least 15 bodies were recovered, some from the submerged
vessel and others after they washed ashore, according to U.S.
Coast Guard officials in Miami. The U.S. Coast Guard had earlier
said that at least 20 bodies were recovered.
Authorities in Santo Domingo said most of the passengers were
from the Dominican Republic, but that Chinese and Haitian
passengers were also aboard.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Suddarth said the survivors were
being questioned by French authorities, who were investigating
the possibility of immigrant smuggling.
The wooden boat sank in the northeastern Caribbean about 2 miles
west of St. Martin, the French half of the island shared with
Dutch Sint Maarten. The vessel was flagged in the Netherlands
Antilles and powered by two outboard motors, Suddarth said.
Investigators said it apparently sailed from Sint Maarten and may
have been headed to one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It sank amid
1 to 3-foot seas with 17 mph winds.
Two of the survivors were wearing life jackets but none of the
dead were, the Coast Guard said.
The French Navy led the search for survivors, aided initially by
U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and the Netherlands Antilles Coast
Guard. The U.S. vessels were relieved of search duties on Friday
afternoon, but the U.S. Coast Guard was still helping calculate
drift patterns to determine where the currents might have carried
any more survivors, Coast Guard Petty Officer Danielle DeMarino
Stephane Grauvogel, a local government official in Martinique,
said several French navy vessels and helicopters were still
searching the area for survivors.
ONE WRECK COULD BE THAT OF MISSING VESSEL
The boat that sank off Haiti could turn out to be a boat that was
reported missing on March 7 by authorities in the Dominican
Officials said at the time that nearly 70 migrants from the
Dominican Republic were presumed to have drowned when their boat
disappeared during an attempt to reach Puerto Rico.
It was not immediately possible to confirm that the boatwreck
reported by the Haitian authorities on Friday was the same one.
The two shipwrecks were the latest incidents involving a steady
trickle of migrants from the Dominican Republic and other poorer
nations in the region who set off to seek a better life in nearby
Puerto Rico, just across the Mona Passage from the Dominican
Republic, is a nearby destination for Dominicans who can easily
blend into the Spanish-speaking territory.
But hundreds of illegal migrants from Cuba, and from Haiti, also
set out every year toward the mainland United States, or pay
human smugglers to bring them over.