At least 14 people from the African nation of Cameroon were rescued from waters in the eastern Caribbean early Tuesday after their boat capsized, but three people died and 13 others were missing, authorities in St Kitts said.
The group had left Antigua early Tuesday aboard a 32-passenger boat apparently en route to the US Virgin Islands when it sank near the island of St Kitts, St Kitts-Nevis chief Anthony Comrie said Defense Force, at a press conference. He said the group was on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe but left for Antigua a week ago.
“My government has made every effort to assist these brothers and sisters from Africa who are stranded in Antigua, including granting them residency and the opportunity to work,” said Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
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He said Cameroonians appeared to have come to Antigua as tourists but intended to emigrate to other countries. Browne said his government has asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration for advice on how to treat the survivors as refugees, adding they are welcome in Antigua.
Cameroon has been wracked by conflict since English-speaking separatists launched a rebellion in the Central African country in 2017. More than 3,300 people have died in the conflict, which has displaced more than 750,000 others, according to the United Nations.
The boat was stolen in Antigua and 16 people on board were rescued, including two Antiguans, Comrie said. The nationalities of those who died or were missing were unknown, officials said.
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Browne said authorities were investigating what he called an “unlawful and horrific matter,” including the involvement of local residents.
“All the facts surrounding today’s disaster are not yet known,” he said.
The boat sank about 40 miles northwest of Antigua for unknown reasons, Col. Telbert Benjamin, defense chief of the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Forces, told government media.
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“The ship went down in relatively deep water, so salvage might be… a bit of a challenge,” Benjamin said.
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