U.S. Coast Guard intercepts 323 migrants from Haiti
* Migration bids from Haiti seem to be picking up again
* They had dropped off after devastating Jan. 12 quake
MIAMI, Aug 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 323 Haitian migrants on Monday after intercepting them aboard two overloaded sailboats in Bahamian waters, northwest of Haiti's northern coast, a Coast Guard officer said.
The operations since Friday were the largest interceptions at sea of would-be migrants from the poor Caribbean state since it was devastated by an earthquake on Jan. 12 that wrecked the capital Port-au-Prince and killed up to 300,000 people.
Attempts by Haitians to reach the United States illegally in small unseaworthy boats had appeared to drop off following the earthquake, both because of the impact of the disaster and because of the presence of U.S. military warships supporting a huge international relief effort during several months.
But the latest interceptions indicated U.S.-bound migration attempts by Haitians might be picking up momentum again.
"The Coast Guard continues to station cutters and aircraft off the coast of Haiti to deter illegal migration and to interdict and rescue those who attempt to depart on these unsafe vessels and dangerous voyages," Captain Steven Banks, chief of enforcement of the Seventh Coast Guard District, said in a statement.
The Coast Guard Cutter Legare stopped an overloaded 40-foot (12 meter) sail freighter carrying 164 Haitian migrants about eight miles (13 km) south of Great Inagua, Bahamas on Friday.
Two days later, the same cutter intercepted another sail freighter carrying 159 Haitians about 33 miles (53 km) west of Great Inagua.
More than six months after Haiti's crippling earthquake, described by some experts as one of the most destructive natural disasters in modern history, the United Nations says the massive relief operation it is heading has made progress.
But at least 1.5 million quake victims are still living in vulnerable tent and tarpaulin camps across Port-au-Prince, and aid workers fear that unless more secure shelter and housing is provided there is a risk of another humanitarian disaster as the hurricane season enters its peak period in August. (Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Chris Wilson)
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