(NEW YORK) — At least 17 people believed to be Haitian migrants were killed early Sunday when an alleged human-smuggling speedboat they were on capsized in the Bahamas, authorities said.
Another 25 aboard the vessel were rescued and a search was continuing Sunday afternoon for others still unaccounted for, Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said at a news conference.
Davis said there were about 60 people on the boat when it capsized. He said the vessel’s destination was Miami.
The Royal Bahamas Defense Force responded to calls of the capsized boat around 1:30 a.m., officials said. Search and rescue crews found the vessel about seven miles off the coast of New Providence, the most populated island in the Bahamas, authorities said.
Davis said the passengers aboard the boat are believed to be Haitian migrants. The vessel capsized along a popular route for Haitian migrants attempting to enter the United States.
Bahamian Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander said two people suspected of being human smugglers were taken into custody.
“We take this opportunity to strongly condemn the organization of smuggling operations, which risk human life and compromise our national security,” Davis said, “Those found to be involved will face prosecution.”
Fernander said a preliminary investigation suggests the twin-engine speedboat left a docking facility in New Providence around 1 a.m. and capsized a short time later.
He said one passenger was found alive under the boat’s hull and officials believe he survived by finding an air pocket.
The Royal Bahamas Defense Force released a photo showing the hull of the capsized vessel partially sticking out of the water.
The cause of the incident is under investigation. It was unclear if anyone aboard the vessel was wearing a life jacket.
The tragedy comes after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and the Miami-Dade Police Department intercepted a sailboat on Thursday packed with 150 migrants that ran aground in Boca Chita Key near Key Biscayne and the Biscayne National Park, officials said. Authorities said several children were among those rescued.
U.S. Coast Guard crews also responded to the incident in Boca Chita Key and passed out life jackets to the migrants before they were transferred to cutters and those needing treatment were taken to Homestead Hospital, according to the Coast Guard.
Since October, the U.S. Coast Guard reports it has intercepted and returned more than 6,100 Haitian migrants attempting to reach the United States.
In January, 34 Haitian migrants died when a human smuggling boat they were on capsized in the Straits of Florida. The only person to survive was found clinging to the vessel’s hull, the Coast Guard said in a statement. The survivor, according to the Coast Guard, told investigators that no one on the overturned vessel was wearing a life jacket.
Many Haitian migrants have fled their country due to the devastating impacts of natural disasters and political instability that have resulted in economic struggles.
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