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US calls off Haiti boat search

30 July 09 15:32 GMT

US Coast Guard officials have called off their search for about 70 migrants from Haiti whose boat capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Fifteen people have already been confirmed dead, and 118 were rescued.

The US Coast Guard had been leading the search; local authorities in the Turks and Caicos will continue looking, but doubt any more survivors will be found.

The rickety and overcrowded sailing boat was apparently heading for the Bahamas or Florida when it hit a reef.

The tragedy happened late on Sunday.

Turks and Caicos deputy police commissioner, Hubert Hughes, said he doubted "very much" that anyone else would be discovered alive.

One survivor, 18-year-old Joanel Pierre, told the Associated Press news agency: "The ones who knew how to swim, swam. The ones who didn't, died."

He said when the boat ran aground, there was a powerful jolt, the hull began to splinter and people fell into the water.

The wooden boat had set sail from the northern Haitian port of Cap Haitien.

Many of the survivors have already been flown back to Haiti, some are still being held in the town of Provinciales in Turks and Caicos, and some are in hospital.

The US Coast Guard had been leading the search for survivors among the reefs.

The flimsy boat had been at sea for three days when it accidentally steered into a reef as it tried to avoid being spotted by a police patrol vessel, another survivor, Alces Julien, told the Associated Press from hospital.

Fatal incidents carrying Haitian migrants are not uncommon.

At least nine people, including a pregnant woman, died in May this year when a boat carrying nearly 30 people, mostly Haitians, sank off the Florida coast.

In May 2007, at least 61 Haitian migrants died when a boat carrying 150 people sank off the Turks and Caicos, a British territory.

Cheryl Little, who works with immigrants in Florida, said:

"We're constantly cautioning Haitians and others not to take to the seas because the voyages are so treacherous. Whenever we talk to Haitians here, we try to make sure they tell their relatives never to try to leave by boat, because the chances are that they are not going to make it."

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