At least 17 people are dead and three more were hospitalized after a suspected Haitian migrant vessel capsized off the Bahamas, Bahamian officials said Sunday.
The vessel capsized about 7 miles off New Providence at about 1 a.m. Sunday, Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said.
Officials believe that two Bahamians were helping to smuggle the Haitians to the U.S. and that the vessel, a speedboat, was bound for Miami. The speedboat is believed to have hit rough waters, which led it to capsize.
Of the 17 bodies pulled from the water, 15 were male, one was female, and one was an infant, officials said.
“We mourn lives lost of those seeking a better way of life,” said the Bahamas’ labor and immigration minister, Keith Bell. “Those here with families and friends in Haiti, encourage your loved ones not to risk their lives.”
Twenty-five people were rescued from the water and are being watched by health officials, said Clayton Fernander, the commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Twenty of the people who were rescued have been taken into Bahamian immigration custody and are being held in a detention center, officials said. Some of those in custody said they paid $3,000 to $8,000 for the voyage.
The two Bahamians believed to have been smuggling the migrants are in custody, Fernander said. They are suspected of running a human smuggling operation, officials said.
Officials said they believe that 50 to 60 people were aboard the vessel and that 42 have been accounted for. They said rescue efforts continued.
Davis also confirmed that the migrants had already landed in the Bahamas and were leaving the country when the vessel capsized.
Similar voyages have ended off course or in tragedy this year. In May, a vessel carrying more than 800 Haitian migrants bound for the U.S. strayed off course and washed ashore in Cuba, leaving the country to scramble for humanitarian aid, Reuters reported.
Just days before that incident, 11 Haitian migrants died when their vessel capsized off Puerto Rico.