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At least 11 dead after crowded Haitian ferry sinks off southern coast

Monday, May 12, 2008

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- An overloaded ferry capsized off the coast of southern Haiti, killing at least 11 people, U.N. and Haitian authorities said Sunday.

U.N. peacekeeping mission spokesman David Wimhurst said most of the 100 people aboard the vessel were able to swim to safety. The boat sank after taking on water about 150 yards from shore late Saturday.

Crews recovered 11 bodies from the water according to Wimhurst and Mayor Evil Lavilette of Pestel, the ferry's departure point. At least five were children.

The boat was on a slow, two-day journey along the top of Haiti's southern peninsula, transporting passengers, food and charcoal to the capital, Port-au-Prince. It made several stops to take on passengers and cargo and was "overcrowded," according to Wimhurst.

Lavilette said a passenger called him in distress as the boat foundered, but emergency crews were not able to reach the ferry quickly because the closest rescue boat was out of gas.

U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police arrived later to help survivors on the western outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Wimhurst said.

Bad roads and a lack of infrastructure force many on the coastline in impoverished Haiti to depend on rickety ferries.

Some 500 to 700 people were killed in 1993 when an overcrowded ferry traveling a similar route sank. At least nine people died last year when a ferry hit a sandbar near the tip of the southern peninsula.


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