- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Haitians fleeing their impoverished homeland met tragedy when their boat went down off the Bahamas, killing at least 20 people and leaving only three known survivors, including a purported migrant smuggler, authorities said yesterday.

Survivors said the boat was carrying 24 people when it capsized Saturday night, according to U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz in Miami. Just before dawn Sunday, fishermen heard screams.

Volunteers searching for bodies tied life preservers to them so they could be recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard, said Chris Lloyd of the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association.

“We recovered as many as we could,” Mr. Lloyd said.

The migrants appeared to be aiming for U.S. shores, and the accident happened less than 150 miles from Miami, said Chief Petty Officer Ralph McKinney of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force. The boat had set out from Nassau and was supposed to stop in Bimini en route to Florida, he said.

Two Haitian survivors — a man and a woman — were being treated at a Nassau hospital for dehydration. The third survivor, a Honduran marine mechanic, was taken into police custody as authorities investigate smuggling allegations, Chief Petty Officer McKinney said.

Haitian Ambassador to the Bahamas Louis Harold Joseph said he had not received confirmation that everyone who died was Haitian, but he expressed doubt that the voyage was connected to recent Haitian food riots in which at least seven people died.

Survivors described the boat as a “go-fast,” suggesting that the migrants had more money than others who make the perilous crossing jammed aboard makeshift vessels.

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