A previous version of this story mistakenly said 46 migrants were found dead last month in the back of a tractor-trailer in San Antonio. The initial death toll from the tragedy was eventually raised to 53. This version has been corrected.
A boat carrying Haitian migrants bound for the United States capsized off the coast of the Bahamas early Sunday, leaving at least 17 people dead, the Bahamian prime minister said.
Bahamian police and defense forces responded to reports of a “boating incident” shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, Prime Minister Philip Davis said at a news conference with health and safety officials. “Rescue teams recovered 17 — sadly — 17 bodies from the water,” he said, adding that 25 people were rescued.
One male and 16 females, including a toddler, were among the dead, said Aubynette Rolle, managing director of the Bahamas’ Public Hospitals Authority.
Three of the rescued, two women and one man, were hospitalized with “injuries and ailments as a result of near-drowning incidents,” said Ryan Pinder, the attorney general and acting health minister.
Two of those rescued were Bahamian men suspected of aiding in or running the operation, said Clayton Fernander, the police commissioner. Aside from those two men, who were in custody, the others were thought to all be Haitian migrants, officials said.
One woman was pulled from the capsized boat after officers heard knocking from the hull. She was kept alive by a small air pocket, Fernander said, rescued after daybreak as teams struggled overnight to identify the boat’s ocean-blue hull.
More people are presumed to be missing, Davis said, and the boat was thought to have been carrying as many as 60 people when it departed from a dock off West Bay Street, which runs along the northwest side of the capital, Nassau, on the island of New Providence.
The boat’s occupants were thought to be “irregular Haitian migrants,” part of a “suspected human-smuggling operation,” Davis said, adding that it was bound for Miami. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 30-foot twin-engine speedboat was found about seven miles off the island’s coast, officials said. Nassau is about 185 miles from Miami.
It is believed that the boat “capsized in rough seas,” Davis said. “Formidable weather conditions out there” were hampering rescue efforts, said Capt. Shonedel Pinder, deputy commander of the Bahamian defense force.
The U.S. Coast Guard was surveying a wide expanse around the site in hopes of finding occupants of the boat who may have drifted away, officials said.
Twenty of the people rescued were in immigration detention, Shonedel Pinder said. Some of the survivors told investigators that they paid between $3,000 and $8,000 for the journey, he said.
Haiti’s ambassador to the United States said the embassy was “profoundly saddened by the tragic loss of 17 human beings who happen to be Haitian nationals.”
“In these difficult times, as Haiti deals with deep-seated structural issues that tend to provoke unsafe sea voyages, the Government of Haiti solicits the support of the international community in order to address the humanitarian consequences,” Bocchit Edmond told The Washington Post in a statement. “At the same time, the Embassy reiterates the call of Haitian authorities for people to avoid traveling clandestinely in rickety and unsafe boats.”
Haiti has struggled with economic and political tumult, worsened by the still unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse a year ago.
Davis, the Bahamian prime minister, said his government has “continuously warned against these treacherous voyages.”
He added: “I understand the situations that many of these migrants face, that have encouraged them to take such great risk. We, however, appeal to those considering making such a voyage not to do so.”
The capsizing is the latest tragedy involving migrants seeking to make a life for themselves in the United States. Last month, the bodies of 53 migrants were found in the back of a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, the deadliest incident of its kind in the nation’s history.
The United States apprehended 356 Haitian migrants in March after a boat carrying them ran aground off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. Emergency workers rescued 158 people from the water before immigration officials apprehended another 198 who had stayed aboard the vessel.