Ten Haitian migrants die, 100 cling to capsized ship in Bahamas


NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) - At least 10 Haitian migrants were killed and rescuers scrambled to save about 100 more who clung to the hull and mast of an overloaded wooden sloop that capsized in the Bahamas, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

The 40-foot (12-metre), sail-powered coastal freighter ran aground and capsized near Staniel Cay in the central Bahamas on Monday night, officials said. It was presumed to have been heading toward the United States.

Bahamian authorities said they had not confirmed any deaths, but the U.S. Coast Guard put the death toll at 10.

Thirteen survivors were hoisted aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, said Petty Officer Mark Barney, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami.

A Royal Bahamas Defense Force spokesman, Lieutenant Origin Deleveaux, said 13 "severely dehydrated" migrants - apparently the same 13 from the helicopter - were taken to Staniel Cay for treatment.

Crews in U.S. planes and helicopters dropped 10 quick-inflating life rafts into the water to help keep the other survivors afloat until a Royal Bahamas Defense Force patrol boat could take them aboard, Barney said.

"They drop it right next to them and they can swim over. Once they're out of the water they have a better chance of surviving," Barney said. "There's just so many people in the water."

Dramatic Coast Guard photos from the scene showed the vessel tilted almost completely over on its side, with passengers tightly packed and holding on. Some sat on the gunnels and others climbed the mast.

Bad weather and rough seas were hampering the rescue efforts, Deleveaux said. Winds were up to 30 miles per hour with waves up to 5 feet, the Coast Guard said.

The cause of the accident was unknown and will be investigated by Bahamian authorities, Barney said. It was unclear how many passengers were aboard.

Migrants from Haiti, Cuba and other Caribbean countries frequently sail through the Bahamas in an attempt to reach the United States, often in overloaded and unseaworthy vessels.

Miami is more than 600 miles from Haiti's northern coast, where such voyages frequently begin.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it has interdicted 346 Haitian migrants at sea in the last two months. The total for the whole year ended September 30 was 508, the smallest number from Haiti in 15 years.

(Reporting by Neil Hartnell in Nassau and Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Vicki Allen, Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman)

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