Skip to main content

17 migrants die when their intercepted boat capsizes at Turks and Caicos

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 9:34 AM EST, Thu December 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. Coast Guard says it rescues about 55 Haitians
  • NEW: The British territory revises death toll to 17 -- 12 males and five females
  • NEW: Victims were on a sailing vessel that capsizes while it being towed by local authorities

(CNN) -- At least 17 people have died and dozens more were rescued after their boat capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean on Wednesday, according to the local government and U.S. officials.

The U.S. Coast Guard, assisting the islands' rescue crews, retrieved about 55 Haitians in waters 100 meters from shore, the U.S. agency said. They fell into the water when their overloaded sail freighter tipped over, the guard said.

The nationalities of the 17 dead people weren't immediately clear Wednesday, but 12 were males and five were female adults, said Colin Farquhar, commissioner of Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force. Earlier reports had put the death toll at 18.

Farquhar added that the search for additional casualties concluded late Wednesday because of darkness and worsening seas. The search will resume Thursday, he said.

Although the Coast Guard put the number of rescued at near 55, local authorities used different numbers.

A total of 33 people -- 21 men including a child and 12 females -- were detained as suspected illegal Haitian migrants and "will be repatriated to Haiti at the earliest opportunity," Farquhar said.

Officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment to explain the discrepancy between the approximate 55 rescues the Coast Guard cited and the 33 detainees Farquhar discussed.

The Turks and Caicos Islands government said in a Facebook statement that a sailing vessel believed to be carrying suspected illegal migrants was intercepted by the Marine Branch of the islands' police force after 3 a.m. Wednesday. Two hours later, while the boat was being towed to a dock to unload the suspects, the sloop capsized, the statement said.

"The stricken vessel has now been removed from the water and will be central to our ongoing investigations into this matter," Farquhar said. "We must all remain vigilant to combat illegal migration."

He thanked police officers and emergency personnel for working under what he called "challenging circumstances."

Police were searching Wednesday "for the handful of people who reached shore and fled the scene," the government said.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British territory.

The incident occurred near the country's island of Providenciales, commonly known as "Provo" and described on the official tourism website as its most developed isle where most international flights arrive.

The 33 rescued people -- all Haitians -- were in custody of the government's immigration detention-removal center, Farquhar said. Authorities revised that figure from an earlier reported count of 32 rescued people.

Haitian migrants seeking to enter the United States have used the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas as way stations to enter the United States.

Migrants appear undeterred, even after deadly shipwrecks

CNN's Elwyn Lopez contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:28 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
With the discovery of debris from the AirAsia plane, investigators move closer to discovering what happened. What are the key questions, and what comes next?
updated 11:40 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
The growth of AirAsia has been a regional aviation success story. The reason behind the loss of Flight QZ 8501 will be key to whether passengers start to shun it, says Alan Khee-Jin Tan.
updated 5:45 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
They say there are no stupid questions -- but are there? How about, "Do you speak African?"
updated 9:39 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
The year of outrage also applies to China's Internet users in 2014.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
One man swims among sharks without the protection of a cage to make studio-quality, intimate photos of the sea creatures.
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
Using a technology that has been around for 130 years, a company called Pavegen hopes to create electricity from everyday human activities.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist and fatherof the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 7:45 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
Gone are the days of grainy phone images with the resolution of a poor imitation Monet.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 12:45 PM EST, Mon December 29, 2014
"The year in pictures" treks across the globe, looking back on the events that shaped 2014.
updated 11:07 AM EST, Mon December 29, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT