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~ Human-smuggling suspected ~ (TDH) – MARIGOT–Three persons drowned and at least three are still missing after an 8-metre long “Saintoise”-type boat with at least twenty people on board sank west of Anguilla Channel, about seven miles from St. Martin, on Sunday night at around 11:30pm.
Twelve persons were rescued and hospitalised, but have since been released. Most of the twelve were plucked out of the water by crew from tug boat “Jamaica” which was in the area at the time. The surviving group was being interrogated and identified at the Gendarmerie in Marigot yesterday.
The Préfecture, in a release late last night, upgraded its information to now three missing persons instead of five, after three more survivors were found and taken to hospital. Rescue details were not mentioned.
The search and rescue operation was coordinated by Centre Régional Opérationnel de Surveillance et Sauvetage (CROSS) Antilles-Guiana. French and Dutch-side sea rescue services, Dutch-side coastguard vessel POEMA, the Gendarmerie’s Brigade Nautique, a patrol boat from Anguilla, and a helicopter from Sécurité Civile with two divers took part in the rescue effort.
Of the three fatalities, two were women recovered by the Dutch side sea rescue vessel 01,
and the other a man, retrieved by the French side sea rescue service (SNSM). Rescue 01 with three volunteers was called out at 11:42pm and quickly located the stricken vessel, despite the darkness.
SNSM 129 also saved two other men found floundering in the water. “It was a miracle to find them in the dark, in 5ft waves, in shock, but still alive,” said coxswain Jean-Claude van Rymennant.
Van Rymenant said he didn’t see any of the survivors wearing life jackets. He added the survivors appeared to be from Brazil and the Dominican Republic from the languages they spoke.
Commandant Paul Betaille indicated Monday, the captain of the boat, reportedly a Haitian national, has not been accounted for yet. The Gendarmerie has opened an investigation into involuntary manslaughter and suspects human smuggling. The exact itinerary of the boat was not known.
The boat, which is registered on the Dutch side according to the Gendarmerie, was found partially submerged with about 5ft of bow still sticking out of the water. Divers had checked to see if anyone was trapped below in the boat. The cause of the sinking was not confirmed, but the boat may well have been overloaded and had taken on water.
The Préfecture initially indicated the boat had twenty persons on board, however, SNSM suggested there may have been up to twenty three persons on board.
A release from St. Maarten Sea Rescue Foundation last night said the three bodies were retrieved before the sun came up. After bringing the survivors and bodies ashore to Marigot to be handed over to the Gendarmerie, the search continued at daybreak, but unfortunately yielded no further results.
“The status of the last missing persons is unclear at this moment, but since the area was searched thoroughly by multiple boats, chances of finding more survivors appear to be very slim,” the release stated. “The name of the vessel and its homeport are not known at this time, nor is the itinerary of their journey very clear. The survivors and bodies found had no life jackets on. Rescue 01 was back at base in Philipsburg at 9.30 am on July 1.”
Searches for the missing persons continued during the day Monday.