20 people found dead on drifting boat in Turks and Caicos Islands

20 people found dead on drifting boat in Turks and Caicos Islands

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos – A boat was found adrift about a mile off Grand Turk Island with 20 dead on board, including two children, authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands said on Sunday.

Officials said investigators ruled out foul play but are still trying to determine what happened. The identity and origin of the dead were also under investigation.

Fishermen spotted the small boat on Thursday morning and alerted the maritime branch of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police, who towed the vessel ashore.

Police communications officer Takara Bain said in a press release that investigators had ruled out criminal acts and were examining other possibilities, without giving details.

Police Commissioner Trevor Botting said the boat appeared to be coming from outside the Caribbean and officials did not believe it had the Turks and Caicos Islands as a destination.

“My investigators are working to establish who they are and how they were killed,” Botting said.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are often a magnet for desperate Haitians seeking to flee this poverty-stricken nation, and the territory has also been used as a transshipment point by human traffickers.

In June 2020, Srikajamukam Chelliah, a Canadian citizen born in Sri Lanka, pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges before a judge in the Turks and Caicos Islands and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He was extradited to Florida and sentenced on February 24 to 32 months in prison for conspiring to smuggle people into the United States.

Chelliah was surprised in August 2019 at the helm of a boat carrying 158 people, including 28 Sri Lankans. They told investigators they were headed for the United States.