Search Continues For Survivors Of Double Caribbean Tragedy

Monday, March 19, 2001
Hopes were fading on Saturday of finding more survivors among about 50 people missing and feared dead after two boats carrying illegal migrants, most of them from the Dominican Republic, sank this week in separate incidents in the Caribbean.

Haitian and French authorities reported that they had found 31 bodies so far from the wrecks - which took place off the southwestern coast of Haiti, and off the coast of the small Franco-Dutch island of St. Martin.

The double tragedy highlighted the perils of voyages in often small and overcrowded vessels that hundreds of people from poorer Caribbean nations make every year to seek a better life in more prosperous parts of the region.

Officials in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, said they had recovered the bodies of 16 people from a boat that sank near the small island of Ile-a-Vache, 3 miles off the southwest coast of Haiti.

Three survivors were found, but some 40 people were missing and feared dead from that vessel, which was carrying illegal migrants from the Dominican Republic.

"We now have 16 bodies and 13 of them were buried on the island of Ile-a-Vache," an official said. "We don't expect to find any more survivors," she said.

The official added that 15 bodies washed up on the shore on Friday morning and another one was found during the evening.

According to survivor Carlos Pinales, the vessel's engine broke down and the boat, with about 60 people on board, drifted for three weeks, heading east, before sinking off Haiti on Thursday after hitting a reef.

The two other survivors were in critical condition in a hospital in Les Cayes, a city 125 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince.

Farther east in the Caribbean, a rescue effort was scaled back on Saturday for possible survivors from another shipwreck off the small island of St. Martin, in which at least 15 people died, French authorities said.

"The death toll currently is 15 people: 10 women and five men," said a maritime rescue services official.

Four survivors had been picked up and French rescue vessels were searching for about 10 people believed to be missing. The official added that hopes were fading that any more survivors would be found from the 40-foot (13-metre) motorized vessel, which capsized on Wednesday night.

A search effort that on Thursday and Friday involved vessels and aircraft from France, the Netherlands Antilles - which shares the island of St. Martin with France -- and the United States had been scaled back to just the French by Saturday.

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