PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – More than 100 somber and bandaged Haitian migrants who survived when their overloaded sailboat capsized off the coast of the Bahamas were repatriated on Tuesday.
The 111 men, women and teenagers who were aboard the boat when it flipped over last week were flown home by the Bahamian government, along with other Haitian migrants detained in that Caribbean country in recent weeks. Bahamas was sending 342 Haitians home on three flights over the course of the day.
Some migrants on the first flight bore wounds they said they suffered over three days clinging to the craft after it struck a reef and capsized off southern Bahamas. Survivors said some injuries came from fights that broke out as some desperate migrants pushed others overboard to lighten the vessel's load.
Authorities say about 30 people died in the Nov. 25 accident but not all of their bodies have been recovered. The recovered bodies were expected to be buried in the Bahamas.
Survivors have said that about 250 people were aboard the boat bound for the Bahamas from La Tortue, a mountainous island north of Haiti known as a smuggler's hideaway. Some people reported paying from $150-$450 for the voyage; two survivors said they paid nothing because their father was the captain and among those who drowned.
Just before the trip, a man from La Tortue visited the coastal town of Port-de-Paix and announced a boat was leaving soon.
"I was determined to make it to the Bahamas," said Marcel Dorostant, a 29-year-old motorcycle taxi driver who borrowed about $115 from a friend. "In the countryside we sold animals so that we could leave."
Survivor Justin Desamour said he and his brother decided to take the trip one day after school, packing only bread and a bottle of water. They each paid $147 for the chance to leave the misery of Port-de-Paix, Desamour said at a government center where he and other repatriated migrants to received rice, water and a little bit of money to return home. Both his brother and a cousin died on the attempted voyage.
"I felt sad, weak and lost all my strength," said Desamour, 17. "God is the only one who saved me."
Authorities believe the migrants had been at sea for eight to nine days with limited food and water and no lifejackets. Many, like Desamour, were severely dehydrated when the first rescue crews arrived.
Survivors said passengers grew uneasy after the first week at sea.
Dorostant said none of the passengers pushed others into the ocean, but some desperate people threw themselves overboard to escape the 40-foot sloop crammed with people on the deck and in the hull.
"Under the deck wasn't good for me," said Dorostant. "Where I sat, there were people vomiting. Where I sat, there were people using it as a toilet. This can leave people in agony."
Such maritime disasters occur frequently in the area, most recently in October when four Haitian women died off Miami. There have also been fatal accidents near the Turks and Caicos Islands, between Haiti and the Bahamas, and in the rough Mona Passage dividing the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Migrants have long used the Bahamian archipelago to reach the United States, with thousands also settling in the Bahamas in recent years.