MIAMI–Police in the Turks and Caicos islands on Thursday were investigating how a boat overloaded with Haitian migrants capsized as it was being towed into port in the British Caribbean territory, killing 17 people. Rescue efforts were called off in the capital Providenciales after no additional bodies were found following the incident in the early hours of Christmas Day, after the boat was intercepted at sea. The bodies of a dozen men and five women were recovered Wednesday from the shallow, clear water, police said in a statement. “Initial eyewitness account indicated that this was apparently caused by the movement of those on board to one side of what was described as a badly overloaded vessel,” Police Commissioner Colin Farquhar said. “Clearly, the necessary autopsies on the deceased will assist in this.” The 33 survivors — 21 men and 12 women — were being questioned at an immigration detention facility about both the cause of the accident and how they ended up on the doomed boat. “Any intelligence gained will be used in our ongoing fight against illegal immigration,” Farquhar said. Authorities said the survivors would be repatriated to Haiti once the investigation is concluded. Officials were working with the Haitian consul to “determine the best course of action as to what should be done with the remains” of the victims, said Clara Gardiner of the border control ministry.
The British-dependent island chain is located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Haiti, and about 550 miles southeast of Miami. Haiti was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere before a 2010 earthquake, which left 250,000 dead and set the island nation’s limping economy back still further. Migrants from Haiti often undertake perilous journeys aboard precarious and often overcrowded boats headed for the Bahamas or the United States. In May 2007, more than 60 migrants were killed when their vessel capsized off Turks and Caicos. In July 2009, 15 Haitian migrants died and nearly 70 others were never found after a boat carrying up to 200 people struck a reef and capsized off the islands. Last month, about 30 Haitian migrants died after an overloaded freighter overturned in the Bahamas, the U.S. Coast Guard said. About 110 others were rescued in rough seas.