The Miami Herald
Thu, Feb. 11, 2010

78 Haitians caught at sea repatriated to homeland

Miami Herald Staff Report

In the first major incidennt at sea since Haiti's devastating earthquake, nearly 80 Haitian nationals aboard an overloaded freighter in the Atlantic were stopped and returned to Haiti, the Coast Guard reported Thursday.

But U.S. authorities said they see no evidence that Haitians are attempting to illegally leave the country in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

"There are currently no indications increased migration from Haiti by sea is imminent,'' Coast Guard officials said in a statement Thursday.

The Haitians repatriated last Saturday were first spotted by Royal Bahamian Defense Force officials in what Coast Guard officials said was "a grossly overloaded, 30-foot sail freighter'' about 13 miles west of Great Exuma Island, Bahamas. The 78 people aboard were immediately moved to a safer area by Bahamian authorities because of severe weather.

Bahamian government officials then contacted the U.S. State Department for repatriation assistance. Working with Haitian officials, the State Department found ``a safe repatriation location not directly affected by the earthquake.'' The drop off was at Cap Haitien.

In their statement, Coast Guard officials reiterated the Obama administration's warnings about Haitians attempting to illegally migrate to the United States.

"The U.S. government remains alert to the possibility of increased illegal migration from Haiti after the earthquake, and has increased its patrol presence in the Caribbean to quickly interdict would-be migrants and safely return them to their country of origin.''

During fiscal year 2010, which started Oct. 1, 2009, the Coast Guard has caught 122 Haitian nationals. During the previous year, 1,782 Haitian nationals were caught at sea.