By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE bodies of the 27 people who died at sea in the Abaco cays have been turned over to the Haitian Embassy in Nassau and the League of Haitian Pastors for burial on Sunday.
Dr Jean Paul Charles, president of the league, told The Tribune there are plans in the works to hold one funeral service for the victims, adding officials are intent on giving them dignity in death with a “decent” funeral. All of the victims have been identified and over the next few days the bodies will be flown to Nassau, he said.
The deaths came after the boat they were on hit a reef on Friday night. While at least 27 died, 18 were rescued, officials said. However, unconfirmed reports of the total number on board the sunken vessel, according to Dr Charles, is now up to 96.
This incident has again shed light on the clear and present danger that undocumented migrants face as they journey by sea from Haiti to the Bahamas and other areas.
It also led Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis to question yesterday the functionality of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s Sandy Bottom Project, which cost taxpayers $232m. Mr Davis insisted the project was commissioned by the Christie administration to improve border patrol.
“We worked tirelessly with the Haitian government to find a diplomatic solution to this problem,” Mr Davis said yesterday during his monthly press conference at PLP headquarters. “But vessels that are generally not sea worthy still seem to leave the northern coast of Haiti regularly.
“The Sandy Bottom Project was designed to better control our waters and cause for early interception in the southern islands, so I was surprised to read that this vessel evaded Bahamian authorities and capsized in Abaco well in the north.
“What is the status of the Sandy Bottom in terms of the number of functional vessels? Where are we with the construction of satellite defence force posts in our southern island? Have diplomatic talks with Haiti failed? Has the Bahamas government actively engaged CARICOM in a regional fight against irregular migration and human trafficking?
“We need to have some answers to those questions because the loss of lives is something that ought to be viewed as unacceptable in persons trek to seek a better way of life for themselves and their family,” Mr Davis said.
On Monday, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette urged those considering the perilous journey to instead consider applying for work permits before risking their lives on the high seas to enter here illegally, where they would likely be apprehended and deported.
Dr Charles agreed.
“We have to do something,” he told The Tribune yesterday.
“We are planning in the near future to go to Haiti to meet with the Haitian government. Something has to be done and it has to be done right now between both governments to see how best the Bahamas government can assist Haiti.”
Asked what case the group intended to make to the Haitian government, Dr Charles said: “They have to work together. Stop fighting each other and try to create a way for people to stay at home and the only way they would stay is if Haiti gets back on track.”
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield also urged would-be undocumented migrants to “think twice”, adding that as a former RBDF official he’d seen this unfortunate kind of situation too many times.
The Cabinet ministers spoke as a pathologist and coroner were sent to Abaco on Monday to process the bodies of those who died.
Initial numbers from law enforcement had the death toll at 28 with 17 survivors, however these numbers were incorrect, officials said Monday.
Mr Henfield also confirmed at the time a request was made Monday by the Haitian Embassy in New Providence for the bodies to be turned over to them for burial.
Some survivors told rescuers they had been at sea for seven days when all hell broke loose near the Abaco cays on Friday, The Tribune reported on Monday.
The survivors were interviewed on Monday as officials tried to understand the circumstances of their travel here, Mr Symonette said.
He said: “I wish they would not contemplate the trip, putting their lives at risk and we’ve seen what has regrettably happened in the last couple of days.
“If they had applied for work permits or that type of thing we’d try and process them, but not to put their lives at risk because once they are apprehended then we’ll send them back to Haiti in any event.”