The Turks and Caicos Islands played host to a deadly capsizing early Christmas morning as 17 people died when the sailboat they were aboard overturned off the shore of Providenciales, the most populous of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The incident occurred when members of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force intercepted the overloaded sloop—which had 50 people on board, according to the Associated Press—as part of an operation to combat illegal migration. The Turks and Caicos, a British territory, are frequently the destination of Haitian migrants leaving their impoverished Caribbean nation in search of work.
The initial death toll was put at 18 but was subsequently changed to 17 in a statement released by the Turks and Caicos governmental press office, via Facebook.
Commissioner Colin Farquhar of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force confirmed that 33 people were detained as a result of the incident and noted that rescue efforts would continue today. They had been halted by Turks and Caicos authorities as a result of worsening light and sea conditions.
The Unites States Coast Guard assisted in the rescue efforts and put the number of people at 55 in their report. There has been no explanation of the discrepancy from either government.
“I speak on behalf of all of the Turks and Caicos Islands authorities, as well as the RTCIPF, when I say thank you to our partners, including the US Coast Guard who provided aerial support in the form of a helicopter and a C-130 maritime patrol aircraft today,” Farquhar said. “Their assistance is greatly appreciated.”
The stricken vessel has been removed from the water and will be a central part of the investigation by Turks and Caicos authorities. It had originally been intercepted at 3:21 a.m. by the Marine Branch of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force. No cause was given for the sailboat’s capsizing, but overloading is suspected to have played a role.
The 33 people rescued, including one child, 21 males, and 12 females, will be repatriated to Haiti “at the earliest opportunity,” according to the Turks and Caicos government.