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Refugee boat capsizes in Caribbean

Helicopters, a jet and boats aiding in rescue effort

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A sailboat loaded with Haitian refugees capsized at the south end of the Bahamas Friday morning. Fourteen people are confirmed dead and the U.S. Coast Guard said as many as 15 others are missing.

The Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane was approaching two vessels loaded with refugees early Friday about six miles west of Great Inagua when one of them capsized, according to Coast Guard Cmdr. Jim McPherson. He said overcrowding appeared to be the cause.

He said as many as 100 people were on board the 35-foot vessel.

The Coast Guard gave the following account of the incident:

The Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane was approaching two vessels loaded with refugees early Friday morning about six miles west of Great Inagua when one of them, "poorly constructed and severely overloaded," capsized.

"We are doing everything we can to rescue any survivors. However, we do not know how many people may be missing," Lt. Cmdr. Ron LaBrec said in the statement. "This is an extremely dangerous voyage that has resulted in many Haitian deaths in the past."

Later, he said 14 bodies had been recovered, including six found in the hull of the vessel by a Royal Bahamian Defense Force diver.

"We believe there are as many as 15 people still missing, and that's based on statements from the survivors," LaBrec said.

The Coast Guard patrols the waters off Haiti in an effort to deter dangerous refugee voyages, as well as drug smuggling.

Two Coast Guard helicopters, a Coast Guard jet and two Bahamian sailing vessels are aiding in the rescue operation, said Lt. Luis Diaz, Coast Guard spokesman in Miami. A C-130 is flying supplies for the survivors from Florida, he added.

Great Inagua is northeast of the channel between Cuba and Haiti.

-- CNN Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report



 
 
 
 







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