Seventeen suspected migrants from Haiti died in a boat accident off the coast of the Bahamas early on Sunday, officials from the two countries said.
Human smugglers are known to use the Bahamas, a group of islands near the coast of the US state of Florida, as a jumping-off point for the potentially treacherous sea journey for Haitians seeking to reach the United States.
“Rescue teams recovered 17 bodies from the water” — 15 women, one man and one infant — a statement tweeted by Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said.
Another 25 people were rescued and placed in the care of health officials, the statement said. At least one person is still missing, with search missions underway.
Preliminary investigations indicate that a speed boat left New Providence, the most populous island in the Bahamian archipelago, around 1:00 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday with about 60 people on board. Officials believe the boat was destined for Miami, Florida.
The vessel is believed to have capsized in the rough water, seven miles (11 kilometers) off the coast of the island.
A multi-agency investigation involving the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defense Force is underway “to determine the full circumstances surrounding a suspected human smuggling operation which has resulted in” the migrant deaths, the statement said.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry later tweeted that 17 of his countrymen had died off the coast of the Bahamas, saying: “This new tragedy saddens the entire nation.”
“I call once again for national reconciliation to solve the problems that make our brothers, sisters and children flee from our land,” he added.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is facing an acute political, economic and security crisis.
In March, some 300 Haitian migrants reached the United States after their wooden boat ran aground near a Florida Keys private club.
Those arrivals came after the US Coast Guard intercepted 123 people on board a small vessel off Anguilla Cay, in the western Bahamas, and detained more than 140 people off the coast of Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas.