Red Cross lowers estimate of Haitian ferry victims
September 9, 1997
Web posted at: 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT)
MONTROUIS, Haiti (CNN) -- As divers prepared to resume their
search Tuesday for those drowned in a ferryboat capsizing a
day earlier, the Red Cross said many fewer people may have
died in the accident than previously believed.
Red Cross officials said late Monday that 250 to 300 people
were believed to be on board the passenger ferry when it
turned over early Monday. So far, United Nations divers have
recovered about 30 bodies; an estimated 60 to 100 passengers
were said to have survived.
The exact number of victims and survivors has been in
question ever since the accident.
Haitian police and coast guard officials had said earlier
that about 700 people were on the ferry, and that as many as
400 had swam safely to shore. But some survivors said that
at most, 60 survived. And a Haitian official said only 30
survivors were confirmed so far.
There were conflicting reports about the numbers of victims
and survivors in part because accounts differed as to how
many people had boarded the ferry.
The 60-foot vessel was certified to safely carry between 80
and 260 people, according to various estimates.
The ferry La Fierte Gonavienne, or The Pride of Gonave, sank
just off the port of Montrouis, 50 miles northwest of
Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. It had left from
Anse-a-Galets on Gonave Island, about 12 miles to the
As it reached Montrouis, a port on Haiti's central coast, the
ferry turned so that passengers could transfer to rowboats to
go ashore. Passengers rushed to one side of the ship, causing
it to capsize, officials and survivors said.
Thousands of Haitians wailed in grief on the pebbled beach of
the fishing village of Montrouis as U.N. divers and a
half-dozen fishing boats searched offshore for victims.
Others helped carry bodies from coast guard boats to shore.
U.S. Coast Guard and U.N. helicopters hovered above the spot
where the ferry disappeared in 75 feet of water as hundreds
of its passengers screamed below-decks.
Survivors: No life jackets, doors bolted
"The boat was overloaded. When it maneuvered to disembark,
everybody ran to one side and the boat tipped over," said
survivor Benjamin Joseph, a 38-year-old civil engineer.
The brand new ferry -- it had gone into service only 10 days
earlier -- had no life jackets, and doors that were bolted
shut prevented many passengers from escaping, Joseph and
other survivors said.
Twenty-six bodies washed ashore shortly after the boat sank
at 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), according to one report.
In Port-au-Prince, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Steve Banks said
Haitian coast guard crews pulled 24 survivors and four bodies
from the water.
United Nations divers recovered at least 24 more bodies in
the water around the sunken ferry, and saw "between 40 and 50
bodies" in one compartment of the boat, U.N. spokeswoman
Patricia Tome said.
Captain arrested, then released
The captain of the boat, a Cuban named Ramos Ingen, was
accused by some survivors of locking many passengers in the
bowels of the vessel. He was arrested by local police, held
for his own security and then released.
"We did not realize he may have locked all those people
inside," said St. Marc police officer Alain Charles.
The United States announced it was giving $25,000 to help
relatives of disaster victims. U.S. Ambassador William Swing
released a statement expressing "our deepest regret on the
occasion of this tragic accident."
Thousands of Haitians regularly use coastal ferries that hug
the mainland. Sea travel is a cheap and common means of
transport in this poor, mountainous nation on the Caribbean
island of Hispaniola. The highways, never good, have
deteriorated over the years.
The boats, which also carry food to Gonave Island and
charcoal to the mainland, are often overloaded.
In February 1993, an overloaded ferry carrying 1,000 people
sank off Haiti's southern peninsula. At least 700 people
drowned. In March 1996, more than 100 people drowned when a
ferry sank in the same general area.
Reuters contributed to this report.