May 5, 2007 in Nation/World

At least 20 Haitians die when crowded boat tips

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

SOUTH DOCK, Turks and Caicos Islands – Every year, Haitians by the hundreds set off in rickety boats hoping to escape poverty by sneaking into the United States. The perils became gruesomely apparent Friday when a crowded boat capsized, flinging migrants into shark-infested waters.

Hours after the sailing vessel overturned in moonlit waters a half-mile from shore, rescuers had recovered more than a dozen bodies – some with savage bite wounds – and were searching for about 60 missing people.

The Turks and Caicos government said the boat was carrying about 160 people and that 78 survivors – 69 males and 9 females – were rescued.

Police have recovered 16 bodies, those of 13 females and three males.

Some survivors were spotted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter clinging to the hull of their overturned vessel, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Barry Bena.

The chopper guided in a boat to get them. A Coast Guard cutter and a C-130 plane also were dispatched to join the search.

The Coast Guard said its helicopter reported spotting about 20 corpses. An Associated Press reporter saw about a dozen bodies, some with missing feet and limbs.

Speaking through an interpreter, one of the survivors said the migrants were on a two-day journey from the northern Haitian town of Cap-Haitien to the Turks and Caicos when the overloaded boat was rocked by choppy waters off the coast.

Some passengers panicked as lightning crackled overhead and caused the vessel to capsize, Wilke Pierre, 52, said.

It could become the worst disaster in years to hit Haitian migrants, who jam into boats to attempt the treacherous journey. The boat that overturned Friday was only about 25 feet long.

Health Minister Lillian Boyce called on human trafficking rings to stop imperiling lives.

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