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Updated: 27 Dead After Haitian Vessel Capsizes

Recovery efforts on Sunday. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

Recovery efforts on Sunday. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

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A map of Fowl Cay and Man O War Cay showing the approximate position of the sunken vessel. (RBDF image)

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

In the worst migrant boating tragedy in Bahamian waters since 2013, officials said 27 Haitians are dead and 18 survived after their boat hit a reef on Friday night and sunk.

Haitian survivors of the shipwreck told rescuers they were at sea for seven days when all hell broke loose near the Abaco cays.

The vessel struck a reef well-known to be dangerous and the boat disintegrated into two halves, volunteer rescuers told this newspaper.

The dead were first spotted by tourists in a 55ft chartered catamaran early on Saturday morning. The tourists saw two floating bodies and sent a mayday signal, according to Troy Albury, 48, head of Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association on Guana Cay and the first rescuer on the scene.

Mr Albury said more than four hours likely passed before anyone knew what had happened. Rigor mortis had set in by the time he neared Scotland Cay shortly after 9 o’clock that morning, he said.

The Royal Bahamas Defence Force said 27 bodies have been recovered over the past two days, 13 on Saturday and 14 yesterday.

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A body brought ashore in the recovery effort. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

Eighteen survivors were rescued, including two yesterday. The Tribune was told the two latest survivors waved down officers from an abandoned cay on which they likely hid when officers patrolled the area the previous day.

Of the dead, 23 were recovered near Fowl Cay where their vessel was shipwrecked six miles off the coast of Marsh Harbour.

The Department of Immigration said 87 people were allegedly on the vessel. However, volunteers said multiple survivors told them 45 people were on board.

Rescue operations yesterday were hindered by tiger sharks that circled the wreckage and ate human remains.

One volunteer said two bodies remained trapped under the wreckage because it was too difficult to get them out.

Mr Albury, the owner of Dive Guana, was about to take guests on an excursion when the mayday call came in.

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Survivors of the tragedy on a bus after being rescued.

The tourists who found the bodies stayed behind until his team arrived but they soon left to catch a flight out of the country.

Mr Albury said: “I was in the boat getting ready to go on a trip when the call came in and I told the people get off the boat and just me and the crew went out. Five of my vessels were out searching for people. It took us seven minutes to get to the site.

“We recovered four bodies floating in the waters at Scotland Cay. When we tried to determine the source of where the boat went down, we discovered survivors on a small cay. We saw four bodies but nine backpacks so we knew there was a lot more people in the water.”

It was likely dark when the vessel shipwrecked, Mr Albury said. He added that the reef the vessel struck is particularly treacherous and boats often run aground there.

“What’s so heartbreaking is they were so close,” he said. “They were less than 300 yards away from getting into North Man-O-War Channel. You have to know how to navigate that reef. The reef is on either side of the channel that comes in and the channel is almost about three and a quarter miles wide and it takes you into what’s called the sea of Abaco. They were on the outer boundary of the channel coming in and if they got passed that reef they would’ve been inside the sea of Abaco. There are only certain places you could come through and if you trying to come in at night and don’t know the direction to come in from, it’s problematic. It’s like 40 feet reef that comes straight to the surface.”

Mr Albury believes that while the survivors successfully swam to a cay, those who drowned away from the wreckage were likely swimmers who didn’t get to land in time.

“They probably went in the wrong direction,” he said. “They probably made it halfway because they were in the sea of Abaco but they drowned. All of the other people found between late Saturday night and this morning were right next to the boat so they drowned immediately.”

The experience has been traumatising for Mr Albury.

“I had a young boy with me, one of my employees and I don’t think he slept last night, just traumatised,” he said. “We have to somehow get the message out. I wanted to say, ‘let’s send a picture of the six dead bodies on the back of my boat, thrown in atop each other to Haiti so people could see what happens when you make this journey.’ I want to say ‘listen, if you decide to get in a boat and come to the Bahamas, this is what might end up happening to you.’”

Rescuers on Saturday included officials from the United States Coast Guard, volunteers from Hope Town Fire and Rescue and officers from the RBDF.

“Luckily there was a defence force vessel already here because we didn’t have anywhere to put the survivors,” Mr Albury said.

Yesterday, officials were challenged with determining where to put the dead bodies because the morgue on the island was full.

It took hours before the bodies that were brought ashore were removed and taken elsewhere.

The incident was the deadliest migrant shipwreck in Bahamian waters since 2013 when at least 30 Haitians perished on an overloaded boat headed for the United States. At the time, 110 people were rescued, including 19 women.

The Department of Immigration declined to let The Tribune interview survivors yesterday.

Immigration Director Clarence Russell said: “All retrieved persons from the incident on Abaco are suspects in what might eventually be charges of homicide once a captain and/or mate is identified. Until the police have concluded their investigations into this most tragic event, no suspect from said incident will be interviewed by any non-governmental official.”

• This story originally stated that 28 people had died and 17 had survived the tragedy. That has now been updated.

Comments

rawbahamian 9 months, 2 weeks ago

How does a haitian sail boat make it from haiti in the south to the most northen island of the Bahamas undected ? How does that work,??? I guess that's what happens when the R.B.D.F. is selecting officiers from the top of the D list graduates !!! Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder would have seen them !!!

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rawbahamian 9 months, 2 weeks ago

When are we as Bahamians gonna wake up and realize that we will soon be foreigners in our own country because we will be outnumbered by the Chinese and Haitians !!! Our laziness and love of the Almighty dollar is destroying this country !!!

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K-Rock 8 months, 2 weeks ago

YOU haven't realized that because you're too stupid, ignorant and selfish to know that the only reason you're talking like this to day is because of Haitians that freed you from slavery... or else you wouldn't have been able to express yourself ignorant behind that freely today. You must understand people are free to roam the earth as global citizens; especially if they are fleeing political unrest, seeking asylum from poverty and etc... It is the same reason Bahamians amongst many are going into the US whether it is with proper documents or not. I would expect this type of nonsense you spewed from an Anglo country. Remember you're part of the Caribbean and at any given moment something bad could happen into the Bahamas and the only country you may found yourself OR the only country that would accept you without judgement is Haiti.. but you're too ignorant to foresee that theory.

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Sickened 9 months, 2 weeks ago

The U.S. needs to get into contact with the Haitian sloop designers and builders. Their stealth manufacturing and technological advances are second to none!

I'm surprised the drug cartels haven't used the unique Haitian 'stealth' wood panels on their go fast boats. Or perhaps its the 'go slow' approach that makes their sloops undetectable? Either way, it's fascinating to see!

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cx 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Are we sure this was a sloop? I have read elsewhere it may have been an american sailboat which they like to use now to slip in.

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Sickened 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Perhaps we need to adjust the sensitivity levels on our motion detectors? These sloops moving too slow to get detected.

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bogart 9 months, 2 weeks ago

HORROR....VERY....VERY....SAD....,!!!! illegal..... HUMAN TRAFFICKING....NAVIGATED ....SOMEBODY.... ......SAILING.....FROM ONE END OF THE SOUTH BAHAMAS.......... THROUGH...THE WAY OF THE ENTIRE BAHAMAS.....SEA.....AN NAVIGATED TO JUS SIX MILES...6 NAUTICAL MILES...TO THE OTHER NORTHERN END OF THE BAHAMAS......DESTINATION....... THE MARSH HARBOUR .........WITH THE ILLEGAL SHANTY TOWN....CALLED THE MUDD ...AN PIGEON PEA.......years .......REPEATED.....REPEATED....REPEATED......SAME....SAME.....SAME......ILLEGAL HUMAN SMUGGLING ROUTE........COMMON SENSE....,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.........DIS SEEMS REPEATED OBVIOUS THAT..........CROOKED...CURRUPT...PERSONS....HAVE BEEN ILLEGAL CROOKED DISPICABLE.......NASTY..HUMAN.TRAFFICERS.......MUST BE FACILATING....OFFERING SANCTUARY..ABODE..SAFE HAVENS...SANCTUARY.....ENCOURAGEMENT.......TO HAVE THESE ILLEGAL PEOPLES COME TO THIS LOCATION......everry investigation at this destination location.....must try an find complicit culprits facilitating this horrendous ...murderous human deaths .....28 DEATHS...BLOOD ON THEIR HUMAN TRAFFICKING DDEATHS....BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS......28 DEATHS...from trafficking...MUST.....be uncovered and punished by the ...worst of the worst.....DEATH PENALTY..FOR GUILTY HUMAN TRAFFICKERS.......ACCOMPLICACES......FACILATORS....SANCTUARY...HIDING...SHELTOR.....ERRY PERSON PART OF THIS HORRENDOUS HUMAN CRIMINAL CRIME......!!!!!!!!!!!

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TheMadHatter 9 months, 2 weeks ago

So what's gonna happen to the 28 passports that have already been printed up but will not be able to be used by those that perished in this boat?

Will the passport office be able to put new pictures and new rfid chips in them for those arriving next week? Or do we as taxpayers have to pay for the cost of 28 whole new passports?

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hrysippus 9 months, 2 weeks ago

MadHater, you are making the deaths of 28 people a matter for your brand of humour. Are you sick?

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TheMadHatter 9 months, 2 weeks ago

hyrsippus. You make a good point. I stand corrected and offer my sincere condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones. The same situation occurs in the deserts of Mexico daily with others seeking out of desperation a better way or life or even simply mere survival.

People in Haiti and Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala and even the Bahamas do this. Try to reach the United States. Yet, knowing how their fellow countrymen are suffering and dieing every day, persons in those named countries would not by majority support a referendum forcing their Ministries of Foreign Affairs to ask the US State Dept to convert them into the 51st, 52nd, etc. State of the Union.

They and we are too proud of our so called independence. Proud of suffering and death. Proud of ignorance and low education. Proud of no opportunities.

Would you vote for the Bahamas to become the 51st state of the United States? Or do you just prefer to call me a hater for hating the suffering of my fellow human beings? I dont hate anyone. I hate stupidity and unnecessary problems - both of which we have in plentiful supply.

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Dawes 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Wow 28 people have died and most comments are about how the sloop (or sailboat) got this far. No Condolences or RIP's to those who have passed. Shameful

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Sickened 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Where's your written condolences? You just came here to point fingers huh?

People die every minute of every day under terrible circumstances. Starvation, suicide, murder, war. We must move past the actual deaths to find out why and how these deaths come to be. Mourning is for the close friends and loved ones to do. If we all just send condolences and ask God for his divine intervention then nothing will ever change.

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Dawes 9 months, 2 weeks ago

There is a time and place for discussing how and why things happen. An article saying that 28 people died in the last day or two is not the time.

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TalRussell 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes, or no - tis not time preach nationalism when fellow comrade human beings were at risk being eaten alive by 12' sharks.... have we as a people lost all our sensitivity marbles, yes, no - the true heroes are the first 'all volunteers' rescue sea responders out Hope Town who saved many from being eaten alive by a 12-foot-long sharks - what a unthinkable, painful way to end one's life while attempting seek better way life.

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geostorm 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Why do these people continue to make this unsafe journey? They put their lives at risk and put a strain on our resources. What a sad situation! I think we as Bahamians have just become desensitized to this situation. Can't blame us though, same situation, month in and month out.

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Bonefishpete 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Tal I agree there's too damn many sharks. This shark hugging got to stop. Now poor Haitians be lucky they swamped Abaco or else they'd might never be heard of.

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avidreader 9 months, 2 weeks ago

It has always struck me as curious that more people do not ask the more fundamental question when we are discussing illegal immigration whether between Haiti and The Bahamas or between Libya and Italy or between Morocco and Spain: Is there not a great deal of responsibility toward their own people that is blatantly lacking on the part of those national governments whose citizens undertake risky journeys which are entirely illegal? What are national governments doing to attempt to improve the conditions under which their citizens exist? What are governments of the receiving countries doing to require the various national governments to assist their own desperate populations? There is a great deal lacking in the source countries, that much is obvious, and many of the governments of those source countries are only too pleased to "export" at least a part of their problems.

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TheMadHatter 9 months, 2 weeks ago

My point above exactly. The USA needs to overthrow these countries with military force and impose sane law and government. Everybody want to cry about the "poor immigrants". What about the poor bastards left behind in the hell hole countries? They dont count? What about us poor VAT paying suckers here in this hell hole?

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DDK 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Most national governments do diddly to improve the lot of their people. Sadly, that is not what being elected into governmental power is all about....

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mandela 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Seven days, 6 nights, 168 hours undetected, God help us if a country or terrorist group decides to over throw us, we will all be be caught asleep.

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SP 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Exactly my first thoughts. Absolutely unbelievable. WTF the "defense force" is allowed to get away with!

Heads should roll for such incompetence.

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Observer 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Hey y'all, those guys were not island hopping. They took a course eastward of all the islands, in the Atlantic ocean. They decided to land under the cover of darkness. That is the tragedy. Condolences to relatives.

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Sickened 9 months, 2 weeks ago

You know the exact route? Sounds like you were the captain of the boat!

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SP 9 months, 2 weeks ago

TRUTH & REALITY CHECK! Why the hell would any right-thinking Bahamian give a dam or feel the need of offering condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones when NOT ANY DAM ONE OF YOU HYPOCRITES would welcome any of the deceased or survivors into your homes?

Before any of you bleeding hearts get on your politically and Christian correct high horses condemning my statements, please feel free to go ahead and prove me wrong by taking any number of the remaining dam Haitian parasite survivors, or any of the 100,000+ illegal Haitian parasites destroying our country and YOUR children's future in our country into your homes asap!

Otherwise, P-L-E-A-S-E STFU!

True reality is, If every illegal Haitian sloop sank and all occupants drowned and or were eaten by sharks for the past 70 years, the Bahamas wouldn't have a national security issue today! There would be no unemployment crises, tens of thousands of OUR people wouldn't be living without electricity, water, nutritious food, and misery, we would pay fewer taxes, have a MUCH higher standard of education, there would be no need for the coming new heath care taxes, social services would be practically eliminated, security would be better manageable, crime would less and YOUR children would have a brighter future to look forward to.

Bahamians choices are simple and 100% transparent for all that chose to accept reality. Either illegal Haitian migrants will populate the Bahamas causing Bahamians to simply be "bred" out of existence, or real Bahamians must SERIOUSLY AND JEALOUSLY guard our heritage for future generations of Bahamians.

We cannot have it both ways because 10 MILLION HAITIANS are willing to risk their lives on rickety boats we Bahamians would NEVER dream of taking from Nassau to Paradise Island TO TAKE OUR COUNTRY FROM US!!

Bahamians better wake the muck up to reality, or be willing to lose your country!!!

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