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Thirty Haitians dead after ship capsizes in Bahamas

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

About 30 Haitian migrants died after an overloaded freighter capsized in the Bahamas and 110 others were rescued in rough seas, the US Coast Guard said Tuesday.

"Approximately 30 Haitian migrants are reported dead," said a statement from the Coast Guard, which cited information from Bahamian defense forces.

The estimated death toll from Monday's accident rose as the Coast Guard released harrowing images of a throng of passengers perched precariously on the overturned hull of the ship.

"The migrants were clinging to the hull of the grounded 40-foot (12-meter) sail freighter when rescue crews arrived," the Coast Guard said.

All those on the hull were safely rescued but it was unclear how many passengers were still stranded in the water, spokesman Petty Officer Mark Barney told AFP.

"We are continuing to search," he said.

Rescuers faced stormy weather on Tuesday, with winds of about 30 miles (48 kilometers) an hour, he added.

The vessel ran aground and then capsized off the coast of Staniel Clay in the central Bahamas on Monday evening, it said.

A Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter hoisted 13 people to safety and delivered a rescue raft. An HC-144 spotter plane and a C-130 transport dropped food, supplies and eight additional life rafts.

The Bahamian defense force, which first alerted the Coast Guard of the accident, also sent a patrol boat to help with rescue efforts.

Stern Lolo, director of Haiti's National Migration Office, said Haitians who brave the dangerous voyage to the Bahamas or the United States come mainly from the poor northwest of the country.

Haiti was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere before a 2010 earthquake, which left 250,000 dead and set the island nation's limping economy back still further.

"We often receive refugees rescued on the high sea and returned to us by the US Coast Guard," Lolo told AFP, estimating the number of Haitian migrants found at sea and returned at between 100 and 150 per month.

Lolo said Haiti tries to discourage migrants from taking to the seas through a public information campaign and radio spots, but does not have the means to patrol its own shores.

In addition to receiving returnees plucked from the water by US authorities, Haiti also sees hundreds more migrants expelled every month by the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has recently tightened its immigration rules as applied to Haitians, taking the controversial step of expelling those of Haitian descent even if they were born on Dominican soil.

More than 170,000 Haitians are still living in tents and makeshift housing as the fourth anniversary of the January 2010 quake approaches, at risk of disease and the hurricanes that often batter the island.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131126/thirty-haitians-dead-after-ship-capsizes-bahamas