• Haitian government says act would be ‘criminal’ if confirmed
• Death toll reaches 61 from Friday’s incident
• More than a dozen Haitian immigrants still missing
• Turks and Caicos official says boat overturned while being towed in storm
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian migrants claim a Turks and Caicos naval vessel rammed their crowded sailboat twice before it capsized last week, killing dozens of people, the director-general of Haiti’s National Migration Office said Tuesday.
Jeanne Bernard Pierre, the director-general of Haiti’s National Migration Office, said the migrants’ account hasn’t been confirmed but that the Haitian government would consider it "criminal" if found true.
The death toll rose to 61 Tuesday from Friday’s pre-dawn capsizing of the migrant-laden sailboat off the British Caribbean territory of Turks and Caicos, after more bodies were found drifting in the Atlantic Ocean, the Turks and Caicos government said Tuesday.
The migrants’ bodies were spotted by a police boat and fishermen in shark-filled waters near where their overloaded sloop overturned, Turks and Caicos Gov. Richard Tauwhare told a news conference.
"We are making every effort we can to identify the bodies," Tauwhare said, adding that two U.S. pathologists were conducting autopsies on the badly decomposed remains.
More than a dozen other Haitian migrants were missing and presumed dead. Officials estimate about 160 people were on board.
Tauwhare said that the vessel overturned while it was being towed to shore by a Turks and Caicos police boat during a storm. The government had previously said authorities arrived on the scene only after it sank
Seventy-eight survivors — 69 men and nine women — were being housed in a detention center until they can be flown back to Haiti.
Every year, hundreds of Haitians set off in rickety boats, fleeing economic and civil disorder in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation in hopes of finding a better life by sneaking into the United States or other Caribbean islands.
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A Turks and Caicos tugboat aids in the rescue of migrants from their capsized boat off the coast of the Caribbean islands on Friday.
Recent deadly voyages by Haitian migrants:
- March 28, 2007
: More than 100 Haitian migrants reach Florida after spending at least three weeks in a dilapidated sailboat, officials said. One man dies in the crossing, and three people are hospitalized in critical condition from dehydration.
- February 2007
- July 2005:
- April 2003:
Its mast blown off and its captain dead, a drifting boat loaded with more than 100 Haitian migrants strikes a reef off the Dominican Republic and capsizes, killing four.
- May 2002:
Twelve Haitians drown when their rickety, overloaded sloop capsizes as a U.S. Coast Guard cutter moves toward the craft.
- April 2000:
- March 1999:
: An estimated 50 Haitian migrants are lost at sea after a fuel tank explodes and sets their fiberglass boat ablaze about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the Dominican Republic. Two survivors are rescued by an American yacht.
A boat carrying 36 Haitians sinks off the country’s coast, killing at least 13 migrants.
U.S. and Bahamian forces rescue 288 Haitian migrants whose boat ran aground on Flamingo Cay in the southern Bahamas. At least two people and possibly as many as 14 die during the voyage. The U.S. Coast Guard evacuates 65 people suffering severe hypothermia, dehydration and kidney failure.
Two boats overloaded with Haitian migrants capsize off Palm Beach, Florida, killing as many as 40.
–The Associated Press