20 people found dead on boat drifting in Turks and Caicos

Remains of 20 people including two children found on boat drifting off the Turks and Caicos Islands on well-known route used by people smugglers

  • The bodies of 20 people were found on a boat drifting near Grand Turk Island
  • Authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands said police had ruled out foul play
  • Police are still trying to determine what happened and the cause of their death
  • The Islands have been used as a transshipment point by human traffickers

The remains of 20 people, including two children, have been found on a boat drifting about a mile off Grand Turk Island on a well-known route used by people smugglers. 

Authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands said investigators had ruled out foul play but were still trying to determine what happened and the cause of death. The identities and origin of the dead were also under investigation. 

Fishermen spotted the small boat Thursday morning and alerted the marine branch of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, who towed the vessel ashore.   

The police communications officer, Takara Bain, said in a news release that investigators had discounted foul play and were looking at other possibilities as to how the people met their deaths, without giving any specifics.

The remains of 20 people, including children, have been found on a boat drifting about a mile off Grand Turk Island on a well-known route used by people smugglers

Police Commissioner Trevor Botting said the boat appeared to have come from outside the Caribbean and authorities did not think it had the Turks and Caicos as its intended destination.

‘It is believed that the boat originates from outside of the Caribbean Region and that neither the Turks and Caicos Islands nor the Region was their intended destination,’ he said in a statement. 

‘My investigators are working to establish their identities and how they met their death. This work will take some time to complete. 

‘Whatever the circumstances, this is a tragic situation where many people have lost their lives, and the thoughts and prayers of the Force go out to those families who have lost a loved one. We will do all we can to identify them and contact their families.’

Police Commissioner Trevor Botting (pictured) said the boat appeared to have come from outside the Caribbean and authorities did not think it had the Turks and Caicos as its intended destination.

Commissioner Botting added: ‘In dealing with this situation, I want to pay tribute to my policing team on Grand Turk and those from Health and other TCIG agencies who assisted in the recovery of the bodies. 

‘This incident was a human tragedy and a very distressing scene. However, my officers have acted with professionalism, humanity and care in the very upsetting work they did yesterday to recover those who have died. 

‘I thank them for a job well done for the humanity and professionalism they have shown’. 

The Turks and Caicos are often a magnet for desperate Haitians seeking to flee that poverty-stricken nation and the territory also has been used as a transshipment point by human traffickers.

On Friday, a day after the 20 dead bodies were found, an illegal vessel with 43 Haitian migrants onboard was intercepted by the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force off the coast of the islands. 

The 40 foot vessel, which was powered by a single motor, was towed to the South Dock Port on Providenciales. 

But during that time one male jumped overboard but was immediately apprehended by the Marine Branch Officers, according to a police press release.      

On Friday, a day after the 20 dead bodies were found, an illegal vessel with 43 Haitian migrants onboard was intercepted by the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force

43 Haitian nationals were found onboard the boat which had a sail and single motor on Friday

The 34 males, eight females and one minor who were found onboard were handed over to the Immigration Task Force for processing and repatriation. 

Superintendent of Police and Head of Special Operations, Martyn Ball, said, ‘I would like to congratulate the Marine Branch Team for yet another successful operation. 

‘Even during extremely rough seas and weather, this unit always executes with care and professionalism. 

‘I want to express thanks to our partners at the Coastal Radar Centre for the important role they play together with us in keeping the borders of the Turks and Caicos Islands safe.’ 

In June 2020, Sri Lanka-born Canadian citizen Srikajamukam Chelliah pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges before a Turks and Caicos judge and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He was extradited to Florida and sentenced Feb. 24 to 32 months in prison for conspiring to smuggle people into the United States.

Chelliah had been caught in August 2019 skippering a boat carrying 158 people, including 28 Sri Lankans. They told investigators they were bound for the United States.

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