At least 10 Haitians die, 110 saved from capsized ship in Bahamas

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) - At least 10 Haitian migrants were killed and 110 were rescued after clinging to the hull and mast of an overloaded wooden sloop that capsized in the Bahamas, U.S. and Bahamian officials said on Tuesday.

Rescuers were still searching for potential survivors from the 40-foot (12-meter), sail-powered coastal freighter that ran aground and capsized near Staniel Cay in the central Bahamas on Monday night, officials said.

It was unclear how many people had been aboard the ship and how many had died.

The U.S. Coast Guard said 30 migrants were reported to have died and 110 had been rescued.

A Royal Bahamas Defence Force spokesman, Lieutenant Origin Deleveaux, said that 10 passengers were confirmed dead, but confirmed that 110 had been rescued.

Thirteen severely dehydrated survivors were hoisted aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and taken to Staniel Cay for treatment, U.S. and Bahamian officials said.

Crews in U.S. Coast Guard planes and helicopters dropped 10 quick-inflating life rafts into the water to help keep the other survivors afloat until a Royal Bahamas Defence Force patrol boat could take them aboard, said Petty Officer Mark Barney, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami.

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“They drop it right next to them and they can swim over. Once they’re out of the water they have a better chance of surviving,” Barney said. “There’s just so many people in the water.”

Coast Guard photos from the scene showed the vessel tilted almost completely over on its side, with passengers tightly packed and holding on. Some sat on the gunnels and others climbed the mast.

Bad weather and rough seas were hampering rescue efforts, Deleveaux said. Winds were up to 30 miles per hour with waves up to 5 feet, the Coast Guard said.

The cause of the accident was unknown and will be investigated by Bahamian authorities, Barney said.

Migrants from Haiti, Cuba and other Caribbean countries frequently sail through the Bahamas in an attempt to reach the United States, often in overloaded and unseaworthy vessels.

Miami is more than 600 miles from Haiti’s northern coast, where such voyages frequently begin.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it has interdicted 346 Haitian migrants at sea in the past two months. The total for the whole year ended September 30 was 508, the smallest number from Haiti in 15 years.

Reporting by Neil Hartnell in Nassau and Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Vicki Allen, Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman