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Posted Thursday, August 2, 2007
British investigators find reason to criticize Turks and Caicos in deadly Haitian flimsy boat capsizing
By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: British investigators found no evidence to support claims that Turks and Caicos authorities rammed a boat of Haitian migrants in May, but said police were ill-equipped to handle the capsizing that killed at least 61 people, according to a report released Wednesday.

Britain's Marine Accident Investigation Branch said instability caused by overcrowding most likely caused the boat to overturn in shark-filled waters just off the shore of Providenciales, one of the Turks and Caicos Islands, before dawn on May 4.

The report released by Haiti's ambassador to the Bahamas said the marine police were "ill-equipped" for the rescue operation and "suffered from poor communications, lack of central coordination, and slow mobilization of resources."

The Haitian sailboat was nearing the British Caribbean territory when a police vessel intercepted it and tried to tow it to shore even though it was overloaded with at least 150 migrants, the report said.

"It would appear that the sloop capsized while under tow," it said. "The trigger for the capsize cannot be stated with certainty, but the underlying problem of the inherent lack of stability ... was almost certainly the main causal factor in this tragic accident."

Survivors claimed police boat rammed them twice, capsizing their vessel and pitching passengers most of whom did not know how to swim into the ocean.

But the report disputed that, saying the two boats "bumped" as police pulled up, causing a loud noise that alarmed migrants but did not tip their boat. "Close inspection of both vessels revealed no signs of collision damage," it said.

The Turks and Caicos government released a brief statement saying the authorities would review marine police procedures but offered no detailed response to the report.

British investigators also said the instability of overcrowded migrant boats was "well known" to marine police but found that "no instructions or operating procedures for mitigating the risk of capsize" had been given to police crew.

They suggested that escorting the boat to shore or removing the passengers from their boat would have been better options than towing under the circumstances.

The report recommended that the territory's police immediately cease all actions that would lead to a boat's capsize and establish procedures for safely interdicting migrant boats.

Haitians have made the dangerous voyage of about 200 miles to the Turks and Caicos for years, fleeing the violence and social turmoil of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country for jobs as construction workers, janitors, landscapers and bellhops in the wealthy territory of 33,000.

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