20 people found dead on boat drifting in Turks and Caicos

International

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (AP) — A boat was found drifting about a mile off Grand Turk island with 20 dead people on board, including two children, authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands said Sunday.

Officials said investigators had ruled out foul play but were still trying to determine what happened. 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, without giving any specifics.

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 destination.

“My investigators are working to establish their identities and how they met their death,” Botting said.

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.

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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