SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — 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 were dead and 13 others missing, authorities in St. Kitts said.
The group had departed Antigua early Tuesday aboard a boat carrying 32 passengers that apparently was en route to the U.S. Virgin Islands when it sank near the island of St. Kitts, Anthony Comrie, head of the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force, said at a news conference. He said the group had been staying on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, but left there a week ago for Antigua.
“My government has been making every effort to be helpful to these brothers and sisters from Africa who were marooned on Antigua, including by granting them residence and the opportunity to work,” Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
He said the Cameroonians apparently arrived in Antigua as tourists but intended to migrate to other countries. Browne said his administration has contacted the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration for counsel on how to treat the survivors as refugees, adding that they are welcome in Antigua.
Cameroon has been rocked by conflict since English-speaking separatists in the Central African country launched a rebellion 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 aboard it were rescued, including two Antiguans, Comrie said. The nationalities of those who died or missing were unknown, officials said.
Browne said authorities would investigate what he called an “unlawful and dreadful affair,” including the involvement of local residents.
“All of the facts surrounding today’s calamity are not yet known,” he said.
The boat sank about 40 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Antigua for unknown reasons, Col. Telbert Benjamin, chief of defense for Antigua and Barbuda’s Defense Force, told the government’s media outlet.
“The vessel went down in relatively deep water, and so recovery … might be a bit of a challenge,” Benjamin said.