Dozens Lost as 2 Boats Sink Off Florida

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Two boats carrying as many as 43 Haitians in an apparent bid to smuggle them into the United States sank Saturday off the South Florida coast. The Coast Guard was able to rescue three people.

“Forty are presumed dead or drowned,” said Art Bullock, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in West Palm Beach.

The three men rescued in the choppy Atlantic waters off West Palm Beach told Border Patrol officers that one boat carrying 18 Haitians broke down and that the other, carrying 18 to 25 more, approached to help. Both boats then sank, the survivors said.


The crew of a passing freighter reported hearing screams from the water about 30 miles off West Palm Beach, and a search was launched.

A Coast Guard cutter recovered the bodies of two men, and crew members saw two other men sink below the surface.

None of the Haitians were wearing life jackets, officials said.

The Coast Guard was searching for the others in the waters between Florida and the Bahamas with boats and aircraft.

The two vessels that sank, a 17-foot boat and a 20-foot boat, apparently cast off from the Bahamas, said Samedi Florvil, with the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami.

The numbers of Haitians and Cubans taking to the seas in search of freedom rose in 1998, and authorities said they expect the trend to continue.