BY DAVID J. NEAL AND JACQUELINE CHARLES
A boat capsized in Bahamian waters in Sunday’s first hours, killing 17 “suspected irregular Haitian migrants,” Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis said at a Sunday afternoon news conference. “It is believed their final destination was Miami, Florida,” Davis said. Though officials said they had reached out to the Haiti embassy in Nassau, it wasn’t clear whether all of those aboard the boat were Haitian. Davis said the investigation will determine that.
Aubynette Rolle, managing director of The Bahamas’ Public Hospitals Authority, described the 17 victims as 15 adult women, one man and one child, a girl around 4 to 5 years old. Officials said three people were hospitalized with near drowning injuries; 20 people were turned over to Bahamian immigration authorities; and two people, both Bahamian, were taken into custody by police. Commissioner of Police Clayton Fernander said they’re known to police for other criminal matters and might face manslaughter charges.
The U.S. Coast Guard is assisting with the search for those unaccounted for on the boat, who number eight to 15 by Bahamian officials’ estimation.
A SHORT BOAT RIDE INTO DARKNESS
Davis, who recently spoke to the Miami Herald about his nation’s concerns with Haiti’s deterioration, said the boat was exiting the Bahamas with immigrants who were already in the country. “How they got here, we’re not quite sure,” he said. “The investigation is still continuing.”
Officials said a 30-foot, two-engine speedboat left a Nassau dock on W. Bay Street before capsizing in waters about 7 miles off New Providence just after 1 a.m. Sunday.
The seas migrants try to cross to reach the U.S. aren’t safe. Neither are the boats “At daylight, we were able to recover the boat,” Fernander said. “The hull of the boat was the same color blue of the sea, so it was difficult at nighttime to identify the vessel in the water. It was submerged in the water.
“The officers heard a knocking in the hull of the boat,” Fernander said. “Divers went down and that’s where they recovered the 17 bodies. There was one female who was still alive who was in the air pocket in the hull of the boat. I believe that’s what kept her alive.” Officials said they believe the passengers paid $3,000 to $8,000 to be on the boat. Boats teeming with people, such as the one with over 150 migrants stopped off Boca Chita Key on Thursday, carry deadly danger along with the hopes of people trying to flee Haiti’s political and economic upheaval. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has intercepted and returned more than 6,000 Haitians at sea since October, the largest attempted migration of Haitian boat refugees in 20 years.
“I understand the situation that many of these migrants face that encourage them to take such great risks,” Davis said. “We, however, appeal to those considering making such a voyage not to do so.”
THE SITUATION IN HAITI AND THE REST OF THE REGION
Davis said the Bahamas “has been very successful over the last few months” with the help of the Cuban and U.S. coast guards and their Defence Force from preventing the entry of Haitian migrants.
“We just keep our fingers crossed. The situation in Haiti is really serious and we don’t know what the answer will be,” he said. “There are talks about imposing the will of other countries on the people but as I said we want it to be a Haitian solution. Whether that is possible, we will only know as we engage with the gang leaders in Haiti, which we intend to do very shortly.” Davis along with the prime ministers of Jamaica and Barbados have been appointed by the 15-member Caribbean Community known as CARICOM to lead a delegation to Haiti to try and help mediate the current political turmoil. “We are to engage very soon in attempting to bring the factions together,” he said. “At the moment, it’s just gang wars. It is a failed state as we speak.” Recent efforts between the interim government and a civil society-led coalition to find a political accord have so far failed to materialize in any agreement that the U.S. and others in the international community have been seeking. Recent gang violence has led to the deaths or injuries of more than 200 Haitians this month alone in the capital’s largest slum, Cite Soleil, while a human rights group north of the capital reported the killing of around 20 individuals by gang members, including a man whose death was captured on a viral video. Attending a funeral in the Artibonite region, north of Port-au-Prince, the man was accosted by gang members who shot him on video and chopped up his body with a machete. Davis was among several leaders from the region who recently attended the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. He and several Caribbean leaders, however, refused to sign a migration declaration that the Biden administration pushed as the hallmark of the event. He noted during the press conference that he “refused to sign on to” the document. “We have our own peculiar circumstances that I keep reminding the world of. We are unable to open our borders to irregular migration and refugees either because of our own limited resources and they ask us to do things but at the end of the day, who foots the bill? You,” he said. “We have a delicate balance we are going through.”