By Jasper Ward
NASSAU (Reuters) - Prosecutors in The Bahamas on Friday charged four men with manslaughter after their vessel capsized as it attempted to smugle mostly Haitian migrants into the United States, leaving 17 people dead including children and a pregnant woman.
The vessel had some 45 people aboard and was on its way to Florida when it capsized around 5 nautical miles from Nassau's harbor, according to official reports.
Among the victims were a 13-year-old girl, a one-year-old baby and a pregnant woman.
Twenty-five people, including two Bahamian men, were rescued in waters near where the incident took place.
The defendants — Donald Watson, McKenzie Jerome, Eulan McKinney and Wilbens Joseph — appeared in a Nassau court before Chief Magistrate JoyAnn Ferguson-Pratt.
Watson and McKinney were also charged with reckless operation of a vessel and operating a vessel without a valid license.
It was not immediately evident how long the men could spend in jail if convicted.
Jerome, who was not represented by a lawyer, was the only defendant who spoke during the proceedings.
"I wasn't a part of any of this," Jerome said. "Nobody called my name except for when they came and arrested me. I don't get it. Why am I here?"
Proceedings in the case are scheduled to resume on Oct 28.
Watson in 2019 was convicted in Florida of illegally bringing an alien into the United States by driving a boat with a foreigner onboard from The Bahamas to Palm Beach, where the vessel was intercepted by law enforcement, according to court records.
Watson was sentenced to two years in prison and was released in 2021, the records show.
The Bahamas is a frequent transit route for Haitians seeking to reach the United States. Dangerous sea voyages in rickety vessels have become increasingly common over the last year as Haitians flee poverty and rising gang violence.
(Reporting by Jasper Ward and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)