The total number of illegal immigrants who died in a Dec. 5 boat accident near Tortola now stands at eight.
Initially, authorities said five people died, but that number’s been adjusted after three additional bodies were recovered, B.V.I. Customs Comptroller Wade Smith said Monday.
“They were found in the same location as the wreck, but they were trapped in the coral,” he said.
The accident occurred eight days ago when a 26-foot boat carrying illegal Haitian immigrants ran aground on a reef outside Paraquita Bay on Tortola.
According to Smith, most of the illegal immigrants ranged in age from their 20s to their 40s. However, two of the dead were children ages three and five, approximately. Smith said he doesn’t think that there are any more bodies to be found.
All but two of the dead were found in the water. Those two were discovered in the boat, which sank after it hit the reef, officials said last week.
Smith said B.V.I. authorities don’t know the whereabouts of the vessel’s captain.
“We’re not too sure if he made it to shore or is one of the migrants. They never say who’s the captain,” Smith said.
A total of 25 people survived the wreck, Smith said. They are in the midst of being sent back to Haiti. Smith said they paid no fine.
Should the captain be identified, Smith said he will face charges.
It appears the vessel left St. Maarten for the Virgin Islands. Smith said that illegal immigrants recently apprehended in the British Virgin Islands have reached the territory via St. Maarten.
“They’re coming from Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Smith said.
The B.V.I. government said in its press release that “human trafficking is a despicable crime, carried out by criminals taking advantage of innocent people seeking a better life. At a time of good will to all mankind, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost family or friends in this incident.”
A Dutch aircraft crew initially spotted the boat with more than 30 people aboard on the night of Dec. 5. It was traveling at high rate of speed on a course from St. Maarten to the Virgin Islands.
The Coast Guard in San Juan received a report from the Dutch aircraft and diverted the Reef Shark to investigate. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Caribbean Air and Marine Branch Dash-8 aircraft was also launched and located the vessel on a course to Tortola. BVI Drug Squad Marine units also responded.
The Reef Shark attempted to get close to the vessel, but was able to come only within a mile before the boat hit the reef.