Authorities say at least 18 migrants drowned in the Caribbean north of Haiti Wednesday, after a sailboat capsized as it was being towed into a port in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Officials in the British territory said 32 Haitians were pulled from the water about 100 meters off the island of Providenciales by rescue teams of local police. Two U.S. Coast Guard fast response vessels also were deployed from the U.S. state of Florida to assist in the search for survivors.
A police statement said a marine unit of the Turks and Caicos police intercepted the overcrowded boat Wednesday morning and was towing it ashore when the craft abruptly overturned in the pre-dawn darkness.
A search continued through Wednesday for more survivors, including some who authorities say apparently swam to shore and fled the scene.
Scores of Haitians have died in similar accidents in recent years, including 30 migrants who died in November when their boat capsized off the southern Bahamas.
Analysts and survivors say Haitians routinely pay smugglers to ferry them across dangerous Caribbean waters to the United States in boats that are often unseaworthy. Many survivors say they were seeking to escape a country still devastated by a 2010 earthquake.