Nearly 260 migrants picked up at sea
Almost 260 Haitian migrants were apprehended by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force(RBDF)yesterday and crammed under makeshift shelters in the front and middle sections of the 198-foot HMBS Bahamas, anchored 18 miles off the Exuma chain.
The vessel became a temporary holding facility last night for the 257 Haitian migrants, who were picked up by the RBDF in two separate apprehension exercises throughout the day.
And as the sun set yesterday, the RBDF vessel P-49, which brought 93 of the migrants to the HMBS Bahamas, set out to attempt to apprehend another Haitian vessel sighted just yesterday afternoon.
The media were given rare access to the apprehension exercise yesterday and rode with the RBDF more than 40 miles south of New Providence to where HMBS Bahamas was anchored and holding the migrants.
Aboard HMBS Bahamas 37 women sat separate from the men toe to toe, back to back and side to side under a shelter mid-ship, put up by the RBDF to prevent the women from receiving direct exposure to the sun.
At the front of the ship 127 men were arranged similarly, but under a much larger shelter where they sat talking amongst themselves.
Most of them seemed healthy and calm as officers with side arms stood watch over them.
Commanding officer of HMBS Bahamas, Clarence Dean, said that group of 164 migrants was comprised of young individuals, with two individuals under the age of 18.
“What we noticed was most of the migrants onboard were under the age of 30,”Dean said,”very young individuals.”
He added that their vessel, a 40-foot Haitian sloop, was sighted Monday morning near the Ragged Island chain and apprehended several hours later.
“At about 11 o’clock[Monday]night a boarding team was dispatched some 18 miles west of Elbow Cay in the Exumas and they apprehended a Haitian sailing vessel,”he said.
The migrants were found to have set sail from Haiti four days before being picked up by the RBDF. That particular Haitian vessel was only hours from making landfall somewhere on the southern point of New Providence, according to Dean.
The 40-foot Haitian sloop had no food or water onboard when it was apprehended and RBDF officers said the boat was so crammed with people that they hung from every inch of it. When they were brought onboard the HMBS Bahamas RBDF personnel fed them and gave them fluids after they had gone four days without eating or drinking.
Only a few minutes after reporters boarded HMBS Bahamas, vessel P-49 arrived with 93 more migrants picked up near Salina Point, Acklins.
The men and women who were separated aboard P-49 sat between each others legs in order to have them all fit aboard. Some men were also seated on the front of the vessel(not meant for passengers).
After P-49 was moored alongside HMBS Bahamas, the migrants were taken off one at a time, thoroughly searched and put amongst the other 164 already aboard
The second apprehension consisted of 76 women and 17 men and this time they seemed to be of varying ages. There appeared to be a boy as young as 12 being searched by officers and a man nearing in his 60s trudged off slowly after he was patted down.
As the media left HMBS Bahamas, another RBDF vessel was en route to HMBS Bahamas with immigration officers to process the migrants.
Dean said the third vessel that was yet to be apprehended was expected to be picked up late last night. HMBS Bahamas is expected to bring the 257 migrants to New Providence today.