March 28 (Reuters) – At least three people died and 13 were missing after a boat traveling to the eastern Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis from neighboring Antigua capsized early Tuesday morning, a government news outlet said.
The boat, which capsized some 12 miles (19 km) south of St. Kitts’ Conaree village, left Antigua with 32 passengers aboard, Antigua’s government news service ABS said in a statement, with many believed to be African migrants who arrived to the island as tourists.
Hundreds of Cameroonian refugees fleeing a five-year war in the country’s eastern Anglophone region traveled to the Caribbean nation in recent months, local media reported, via charter flights which were briefly allowed from the Nigerian capital Lagos.
In February, a government minister told local media that nearly 640 of more than 900 migrants who boarded the flights remained on the island, though it was not yet clear if they would be given legal residency or deported.
In a statement on Tuesday, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the government had been making “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.”
Browne said his government would launch an investigation into the illegal boat launch and advised Africans in Antigua and Barbuda to avoid illicit schemes and work with state immigration authorities.
He said the government would offer refuge to the survivors, arrange burials for the dead and make every effort to contact their relatives.
Of 16 people who were pulled from the water and taken to St. Kitts, ABS reported, two were Antiguan and Barbudan nationals and 14 from unidentified countries in Africa.
Colonel Telbert Benjamin of the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force told ABS that an aircraft had been deployed to help search for the missing.