NASSAU, Bahamas – A boat packed with Haitian migrants headed for the United States sunk and 11 bodies have been recovered from the ocean, a Bahamas police spokeswoman said Monday.
Royal Bahamas Police Inspector Chrislyn Skippings said the death toll was expected to rise because investigators believe at least 28 Haitians were on board the 25-foot smuggler's vessel when it set off Sunday from Abaco.
Skippings said seven people had been rescued and a search was under way for other survivors among the at least 10 people thought missing, including five children.
"The vessel was en route to Florida. They developed engine problems which resulted in the vessel taking on water," Skippings said during a phone interview.
The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a plane based in Miami and a helicopter based on Andros Island, Bahamas, to help search for survivors, Guard spokesman Petty Officer John-Paul Rios said.
The U.S. Coast Guard patrols the region for drug traffickers and illegal migrants and often helps in search and rescue efforts.
Haitian migrants have been coming to the Bahamas for years, fleeing severe poverty in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. The migrants mostly try to reach the U.S., though some stay in the Bahamas to form a low-income workforce.
Abaco has a population of about 13,000 people. The Abaco islands are about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Florida. Hundreds of Haitians have been living in a couple of overcrowded shantytowns called Pigeon Pea and "The Mud" on Abaco, near Marsh Harbor, for years despite repeated government threats to evict them. The community is a mix of permanent residents, naturalized citizens and migrants.
The Bahamas lies more than 600 kilometers (375 miles) northeast of Haiti. Haitian migrants sneak into the Bahamas illegally by boat, paying roughly $500 for the perilous journey.