9 dead as boat smuggling Haitian migrants sinks off Florida coast

By Calvin Palmer

A boat carrying 30 migrants from Haiti sank off the Florida coast this morning killing at least nine people.

Rescue efforts have continued all day off Boynton Beach in Palm Beach County.

Coast Guard officials believe the victims were aboard an overloaded boat that set off from Bimini in The Bahamas as part of a human trafficking operation.

The boat got into difficulties around 2:00 a.m. and sank but authorities were not alerted until several hours later when a passing boater spotted people in the water.

“We don’t know how many people we’re looking for,” U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jim Fitton said at a news conference in Miami this afternoon. “We will continue the search through the night and make sure no one is left out there.”

So far the Coast Guard has rescued 16 survivors.

A pregnant woman was among the survivors most of whom were suffering from exhaustion.

Two other migrants – one dead and one alive — were also found off Delray Beach. It is unclear if they had been on the capsized boat.

“Survivors  said there was some sort of collision,” Fitton said. “The boat was obviously overloaded.”

Of the survivors, only eight were wearing life jackets. The others must have spent hours treading water.

“It has the potential to be a smuggling operation,” Fitton said.

Haiti is the hemisphere’s poorest nation. Four tropical storms and hurricanes battered the country during last year’s harvest season, killing 793 people nationwide, crippling agriculture and causing $1 billion in damage to irrigation, bridges and roads.

Since October, the Coast Guard says that it had stopped 1,377 Haitians, up from 972 during the same seven-month period last year.

The Rev. Luke Harrigan, a Fort Lauderdale pastor who ministers to the Haitian-American community, was working with the Coast Guard to help the victims. He said Haitians are known to pay $2,000 to $4,000 to be smuggled into the U.S.

[Based on reports by The Miami Herald and Associated Press.]

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