Hundreds turned out to fill the Enoch Beckford Auditorium on Carmichael Road on Sunday, February 10, to pay respect those migrants whose lives were lost at sea when the boat they were on sunk near Scotland Cay in Abaco.
About 22 bodies were eventually identified by family members in the week following the tragedy which took place on the morning of February 2.
Rescue workers and volunteers quickly responded after receiving a report from a visiting boater of bodies in the water, rescuing 18 survivors and recovering eventually about 30 bodies.
According to the head of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Captain Stephen Russell, the boat which sank just east of Scotland Cay – in the area of Fowl Cay- possibly due to hitting a reef, was carrying an estimated 83 people; the final death toll could rise to as high as 65 with 35 migrants unaccounted for.
Haitian survivors of the shipwreck told rescuers they were at sea for seven days when disaster struck near the Abaco cays.
According to a report from NEMA the ship, which was rumored to have left from Port-de-Paix in northwest Haiti, was carrying approximately 83 people – 76 men and seven women, all of whom were Haitian. There were no children on board.
While during the course of the rescue operation numbers from 45 to over 100 have been discussed on Monday Dr. Jean Paul Charles, president of the League of Haitian Pastors said he had unconfirmed reports the number onboard could have been as high as 96.
The figures from NEMA provide as close an answer as we are likely to get.
Rescue and recovery operations are continuing but as time drags on chances of survival will diminish for the passengers unaccounted for unless they somehow make it to shore.
Captain Russell said, “First, let me on behalf of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas extend condolences to the people of Haiti and to our Haitian brothers and sisters thought The Bahamas.”
He said it is believed that the tragedy occurred as a result of engine problems and the vessel ended up in the cays of Abaco.
“We are saddened by this terrible loss. We know that an incident of this kind has happened before in Abaco. But it was never to this magnitude where so many lives were lost…”
Just hours before NEMA’s statement Pope Francis sent “affectionate thoughts” to the Haitian people and relatives of those who died in the Abaco tragedy as he ended his General Audience in Vatican City.
There has been no word yet on whether a captain has been identified or if the survivors will be charged.
Since the beginning of the year, 300 Haitians were apprehended attempting to enter The Bahamas illegally, according to authorities.
“This is a problem we have been dealing with for decades,” Minister of National Security Marvin Dames noted.
“It goes way back. It all depends on what happens in Haiti,[which]
will certainly determine… when [people] leave and the choices they make.”
Captain Russell closed his report with: “We are thankful to the many volunteers of the Hope Town Fire & Rescue, Guana and Man-O-War Cay volunteers, divers, Department of Local Government, the armed forces, non-profit organizations, the Department of Immigration, the Department of Public Health, Tropical Shipping, the Office of The Prime Minister, the Department of Environmental Health Services, the coroner and her team of pathologists, the Magistrate courts in Marsh Harbour, and the office of the administrator and the United States Coast Guard for ensuring that this exercise was done as smoothly and as humanely possible.”